MICHAEL BEALE was delighted with Leo Hjelde’s debut display in Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough at the Riverside.

Hjelde only joined the Black Cats in the final week of the transfer window, making a permanent move from Leeds United.

More naturally a centre-half, the 20-year-old Norwegian was tasked with filling at left-back yesterday, and he responded with an accomplished performance that helped Sunderland claim the point that lifted them back to within one point of the play-off places in the Championship table.


Beale said: “I was delighted with Leo’s performance – I thought it was a strong debut. It was a difficult game to come into when you’ve only trained with your team-mates three or four times.

“It’s been a whirlwind week for him, hasn’t it? I thought he showed what he’s going to bring. I thought he was tenacious in his tackles and I thought he got up and down the pitch.

“It’s clear he’s not just a left-back – he can play left-sided centre-half too – and he’s another 20-year-old that we’ve done really well to recruit. He’s got bags of personality, which I think our team needs a little bit of. He brings a voice, an energy and an aggression, and I was pleased for him.”

Another of Sunderland’s 20-year-olds, Abdoullah Ba, suffered a more difficult afternoon on Teesside.

The French youngster wasted a glorious first-half opportunity as he fired at Rav van den Berg from close range, and was withdrawn midway through the second half as he was replaced by Patrick Roberts.

Beale felt that both Ba and Jack Clarke were out of sorts at the start of the second half, but was keen to defend the former despite taking him off.

He said: “I thought Abdoullah played really well in the first half. I felt both him and Jack, at the start of the second half, were ones that weren’t winning their duels because the full-backs got the better of them. They didn’t help the team out so much defensively, so we made the change.

“But at this moment in time, Abdoullah is showing that at 20 years of age, he’s a huge asset to Sunderland. I’m pleased with him, and his first-half performance, that (the miss) moment aside, I thought was strong. I thought he caused (Lukas) Engel for them some problems in the first half.”