Following a promising start to the 2016-17 season, a serious ankle injury in January of last year sidelined Ovie Ejaria for the remainder of that season and then the start of the current one, setting back the 20-year-old’s development at Liverpool.
When he returned to action it was to regular U23 minutes, and Ejaria knew he needed a tougher test to get back on track and chose Sunderland as a loan destination in January. And it’s certainly been a tough test given Sunderland’s struggles.
“I played in FA Youth Cups, knocked out when I was in the Under-18s and it hurt, but that is nothing like I am experiencing now,” he said. “This is the hardest I have been through and I have only been here since January, so it’s all about how you cope.
“At Liverpool, at the beginning of the season, we were doing well with the 23s, then I came here and it’s been a lot different, coming into a relegation battle. Hopefully we can turn it round because there are games left to achieve what we need to.”
Sunderland used to be a Premier League fixture, now they’re dead last in the Championship and not expected to survive. Five points adrift of safety with nine games to play means it’s not over yet, but their prospects aren’t good and few expect survival.
Having won just five games this season, they will need to win two more games than all of Burton Albion, Birmingham City, and Barnsley the rest of the way in order to claw their way out of the relegation zone and avoid a future in League One.
“Possibly it can still have a happy ending here,” Ejaria added. “If we can get the wins then it will be one to look back on as a good experience. I always knew Sunderland to be a Premier League club, so it’s quite crazy to see the position the club is in.
“Everyone knows Sunderland is as massive club, how it looks in the table now everyone will be shocked because of the situation and hopefully we can turn it round because none of us want this club to fall out of the Championship.”
Barring a miracle, though, that’s what’s about to happen. For Ejaria, though, whatever happens to Sunderland, this kind of high pressure, high stakes relegation battle should at least prove a valuable experience heading into next season.