IN Patrick Roberts, Tony Mowbray claims to have the ‘most talented footballer in the Championship’. In Amad Diallo, the Sunderland boss also claims to have the reason why the most talented footballer in the Championship cannot get into the Black Cats’ team.

While Roberts has produced the occasional moment of magic this season, it is Diallo that is gradually compiling a compelling compendium of decisive interventions and match-winning goals.

Saturday’s second-half strike against Millwall, which paved the way for the 3-0 win that lifted Sunderland back into the top half of the Championship table, was his fourth in six matches either side of the World Cup break. Roberts, for all his flashes of brilliance, has only scored four in all competitions over the course of his entire Black Cats career.

The fact the two players play in the same position mean they will inevitably be compared, and while Mowbray freely admitted he was frustrated at Diallo’s lack of end product in the early stages of his loan move from Manchester United, the 20-year-old has clearly taken his head coach’s comments on board and worked diligently to address the issue. Hence why he is currently strutting his stuff in Sunderland’s first team while Roberts is forced to kick his heels on the bench.

“In my opinion, Patrick is probably the most talented footballer in this league, yet I have to sit him down in my office and (tell him) he’s not playing,” said Mowbray. “’Why am I not playing if you think I’m that talented?’

“‘Well, because this kid assists and scores goals Pat, and with total respect, you scored two amazing goals away at Reading this season and you’ve had some assists, but Diallo’s on fire at the moment and he plays in the same position as you’. It’s amazing to think Patrick is sitting on the bench. yet Amad’s goals and assists are keeping him out at the moment.”

Diallo’s talents had hardly been hidden prior to him moving to Wearside. The impact of his breakthrough with Italian side Atalanta was such that Manchester United were persuaded to shell out an eye-watering £19m to sign him as an untried teenager in January 2021.

The Northern Echo: Amad Diallo

A loan spell at Rangers in the second half of last season did not really go to plan, with Diallo struggling for game time at Ibrox, and while his age means it was hardly a case of ‘make of break’ when he opted to join Sunderland in the summer, there was clearly a need to get his footballing development back on track. He has certainly achieved that in the last couple of months – and a fair bit more.

“Amad has had his own journey,” said his fellow forward Alex Pritchard, who followed up Diallo’s opener with a goal of his own at the weekend. “I watch football all the time, and you see where he’s been previously.

“The boy is still young and has a big price tag on is head, but that’s not his problem. It’s out of his hands. He’s a down-to-earth lad, he obviously works hard, and you can see his qualities on the ball during the game.

“Coming here, I don’t think he’s had much game time at Rangers, and it was one of them where he’s come to Sunderland and needs to play games and affect games. That’s what he’s doing at the moment, so long may that continue.”

Sunderland’s attacking-midfield talents made the difference at the weekend, with the Black Cats shrugging off a sluggish first-half performance to effectively put the game to bed in the space of five second-half minutes.

Diallo tapped home at the back post after Ellis Simms’ attempt to covert a Pritchard cross saw the ball skew into his path, and Pritchard doubled Sunderland’s lead when he received Lynden Gooch’s ball and twisted into space in the box before firing a low finish past an unsighted George Long in the Millwall goal.

Simms wrapped up his side’s win in stoppage time when the Millwall defence completely misjudged a long ball forward, enabling the Sunderland striker to nip in ahead of Long and roll home.