Here to kick off our end of the season review with a bang, it's the always delightful Richard Mason! Richard being the sports writer for The Northern Echo, The Durham Times plus The Darlington & Stockton Times.
Richards been all over the place reporting on Sunderland this season, as well as the other North East teams, for those publications, and also finds time to be a thorougly decent chap and certainly worth a follow on Twitter - @MasonEcho.
Anyway, now it's time to hear what Richard thought of SAFC's season, and hear him wax lyrical about the Arsenal press room... Enjoy!Player Of The Season?
Richard: Phil Bardsley. Completely different to last season, where Darren Bent was by far the stand-out choice, Bardsley seems to be the compromise choice. The coalition government-esque decision. He's been consistent without being outstanding. Notable mentions to Titus Bramble, Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan, but Bardsley has been there or thereabouts all season.
Young Player Of The Season?
Richard: Simon Mignolet. In goalkeeper terms, he's a foetus. But he was a big part of Sunderland's early-season form, quickly adapting to the pace of the Premier League. He's made a few errors here and there, but you have to say his first season in England has been a real success.
Best Signing Of The Season?
Richard: Titus Bramble. I'm not really in to firing up tribal battles, but it raises a small smirk when you consider Newcastle paid £5m for him, released him on a free and two years later Sunderland come along and only pay a million for him. That's not my reasoning for his selection, I'm merely pointing out that, at a million, he was worth the gamble, and he hasn't let anyone down.
Worst Player Of The Season?
Richard: It's a tough one. In Sunderland's more disappointing games - the derbies, Man City away, West Brom at home – you couldn't really single out one player for criticism, it's like shooting fish in a barrel. I'm not sure whether it was their fault, but Marcos Angeleri and Cristian Riveros have both flattered to deceive. You have to ask questions of the South American scouting system. The money spent on that pair could, at the very least, have been spent on players from the Championship, who need less time to adjust to the climate here.
Most Disappointing Signing Of The Season?
Richard: See above...
Goal Of The Season?
Richard: I didn't see it live, but Asamoah Gyan's debut goal against Wigan at the DW Stadium was pretty special. Notable mentions to Nedum Onuoha's solo effort at Stamford Bridge and Phil Bardsley's piledriver against West Brom.
Game Of The Season?
Richard: Chelsea away. Has to be, doesn't it? Considering how rank bad Sunderland had been at Stamford Bridge in previous years, the fact they won, and won so well, was stunning. Yes, it was the start of an awful run for Chelsea, but it was by far and away Sunderland's "bloody hell" moment of the season.
Out of ten, what would you rate Steve Bruce’s performance as manager this season?
Richard: I suppose that depends on the criteria you're marking him by. What is success for Sunderland? I would say top half, good progress in the cups, decent performances in the derbies. He's got one out of three there with the top ten finish, but it could have been so much more. The Premier League has been either "competitive" or "average" this season, depending on your viewpoint. European qualification was a real opportunity and that has been spurned. In the early parts of the season, there was a clear system, Bruce had a best XI. But that, through injury, had completely disintegrated and at one point I wasn't sure Bruce knew his best system or his best line-up. Talking about rebuilding the team again is not the way forward. Is there something wrong with the approach to looking after his players? The amount of recurring injuries this season points to that. This injury crisis is not a phenomenon and it needs to be rectified. If Bruce looks back on the season, there are very few positives taken from the campaign, although battling to tenth with a skeleton squad at his disposal was a real surprise. Out of ten, I'd say a 6 would be pretty fair.
Which one moment summed up SAFC’s entire season?
Richard: The home game against Wigan. Conceded a goal against the run of play, lost three players to injury, then managed to win 4-2 with no strikers on the pitch. It's a well-used phrase, but "typical Sunderland."
Of the loanees this season, which if any would you like to see stay permanently?
Richard: I would have said all of them a while ago, but for me, it's Nedum Onuoha. Sunderland need defensive stability next season. He's young, intelligent, and could be the player Sunderland need at the back. I would also suggest Danny Welbeck. I can't see that coming off but another loan would be welcome.
Which player should be first out the door in the summer?
Richard: Sulley Muntari. Although it's not completely his fault. It must be difficult to motivate yourself to play when you're getting £70,000 a week. Really difficult. Also, Sunderland made a huge error by letting him know he wasn't welcome on Wearside with three games of the season to play.
Give us one player you think SAFC simply must buy this summer (within reason)...
Richard: Sunderland have a remarkable ability to make a decent player look average, so I really don't know. Within reason? Stuart Downing.
What was your personal highlight of the season, something we might not know about?
Richard: Covering Sunderland's 0-0 draw at the Emirates. The place is palatial. The best press facilities in the country. They have a freezer in the canteen with free Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I'd found my natural habitat.
And finally, any other thoughts or comments on how you feel the season went?
Richard: As I said earlier, it could have been Sunderland's season to secure European qualification, but the wheels came off in spectacular fashion. Those wheels need to be reattached. Keeping players fit needs to be a real priority for Steve Bruce. If you have a fully-fit squad, then you have competition for places. Rebuilding the squad is not the answer. Repairing it is.
Thanks very much to Richard Mason for kicking us off! If you're in the area, go buy one of the great papers Richard writes for! If not check them out online, you've no excuse - The Northern Echo, The Durham Times, The Darlington & Stockton Times.