Sunderland: Tony Mowbray on ‘diamond’ defender Dan Ballard
TONY Mowbray says his defensive “diamond” Dan Ballard is getting better and better – and hailed the “brilliant recruitment” that brought the international centre-half to Sunderland last summer.
After a hugely impressive first season on Wearside, Ballard has stepped up again so far this term and was immense in the 3-1 win at Blackburn on Wednesday night, making three brilliant goal-saving blocks.
Mowbray says the Northern Ireland international is a “warrior” when he needs to be but is also comfortable on the ball and has all the attributes to go on and enjoy a hugely successful career in the game.
Sunderland signed the defender from Arsenal last summer. His impressive first campaign at the Stadium of Light led to reports of Premier League interest in the recent transfer window, with West Ham linked, but the Black Cats moved quickly to quash any uncertainty, handing the 23-year-old a new long-term deal in August.
After Ballard’s Man of the Match display at Blackburn, Mowbray said: “He’s an outstanding defender, he’s a brilliant footballer.
“I say we’re lucky to have him, but it was brilliant recruitment to bring Dan Ballard to this football club.
“He’s a diamond of a lad. I’m not sure where his ceiling is but he’s a wonderful footballer and an old-school centre-half who puts his body on the line.
“And if he plays against a really strong player, he just gets stronger himself. He reacts to what’s in front of him. He needed to be good (at Blackburn) against a good team. He’s a warrior, amazing really.”
Mowbray does, however, have one concern.
“I do sit and worry sometimes that if Ballard gets injured, with total respect to the young centre-halves we have behind him, they’re not Dan Ballard,” he said.
“But I believe Luke O’Nien’s voice and organisational skills are just as important as what Ballard brings. His composure to pick the first pass on the transition is really exceptional and he’s a really talented footballer as well.”