Afternoon Lads and Lasses!
I'd first like to say what a joy it has been to be part of the good ship Roker Report and having had the pleasure of looking back at some of the gems of recent Sunderland history as part of the Cult Heroes section of the website. Truly a fanastic diversion away from trials and tribulations of this turbulent season.
I'm sure I was not the only one willing this term to end following the inevitable post Christmas slump. What started as a season with such promise has imploded into a farce to be quite honest. With the lads lacking confidence on the pitch and seemingly dodging landmines off it we have been dragged into a survival battle. Questions surrounding Bruce's future are unfortunately being asked but only Short and his buddy Quinn hold the answers. I expect a lively summer.
But hey-ho it hasn't all been doom and gloom! Just about anyway.
So without further ado I answer the questions that matter!
Player Of The Season?
Phil Bardsley. Not much more can be said about the tough tackling "Scotsman's" performances this season that haven't already been said. Constantly dependable and fully committed whilst out of position on the left handside he has even chipped in with a few goals for the cause - some belters as well. Possibly says more about Sunderland's season that an out of position Phil Bardsley has caught the eye but you can take nothing away from the fella.
Young Player Of The Season?
Jordan Henderson. Despite seemingly becoming a target for the knackers in the stands, Henderson really made the step up to first team football this season. Following a sensational start to the season Jordan drew attention from the top four, with Sir Alex keeping tabs on the midfielder, and also had his efforts recognised on an International level. Undoubtedly a fantastic achievement. Granted Jordan's form dropped over the festive period and beyond but name me a player that shined during that dismal run?
Best Signing Of The Season?
Stephane Sessegnon. The little fella has taken a few weeks to get up to speed, but has shown flashes of brilliance in a side devoid of confidence following his January move. With a good pre-season under his belt and played just behind the forward line I fully expect Stephane to be a key player for Sunderland next season, truly a player to excite the Wearside faithful.
Worst Signing Of The Season?
Marcos Angeleri. He came, walked his dog on Seaburn beach, had beautiful hair, looked like Jesus, called Bruce a racist and reportedly had his contract cancelled. However recent reports seem to be more favourable with the gaffer showinging a willingness to allow the right back to prove his fitness over the summer. Notable mention must go to Cristian Riveros as well, who despite an impressive display in the World Cup has seemingly failed to cope with the rigours of the Premier League.
Most Disappointing Signing Of The Season?
Sulley Muntari. The Ghanaian came from Inter Milan looking to impress to seal a big money move back to the Premiership. I had such high hopes for Sulley but to be quite honest, he's been a total waste of space. Offering very little on the pitch during a period that we were desperate for a player of his pedigree and class to stamp some authority on the pitch. It was no surprise when his agent announced SAFC would not be taking up and option to sign the midfielder on a permanent deal despite his injury time effort away to Bolton taking 17 deflections on its way over the line in a vital three points for the Black Cats.
Goal Of The Season?
Asamoah Gyan vs Chelsea (A). Everything about this goal was superb. Welbeck's ball to an advanced Henderson, Jordan's measured first time ball into the path of the marauding Ghanaian, Gyan's composed, clinical finish and Bolo Zenden's dad dancing in the midst of the celebrations. Fantastic stuff.
Game Of The Season?
Chelsea vs SAFC. A game we weren't given a chance of winning, no real surprise really given our record in the capital, but the boys caught everyone off guard, myself included, with a stunning performance against the champions. A sturdy defensive display was back up by some fantastic goals, Nedum slaloming his way through Chelsea's defense, Gyans superb finish under Cech and even Ashley Cole being made to look a fool with his "back pass". Truly a game to remember.
A close second was the 4-2 home win over Wigan, which I may or may not mention later... ooooh the suspense.
Out of ten, how would you rate Steve Bruce's performance as manager this season?
5/10. We set a great early pace, with a top ten finish looking certain and even aspirations of European football looking within our grasp. Then it all went wrong. Our talismatic forward threw his toys out of the pram and hid away in a hotel in Birmingham sealing himself a big deal with a "big club" leaving his former employers with little to no time to suitably replace a goalscorer of his quality. There is no way Bruce, or any other manager for that matter, could have coped with the loss of twenty goals a season striker at that stage.
I've never known a season to be ruined by so many injuries from the training ground - a problem Bruce has to take the blame for. We also seem to rush players back from injury, a trait which has also cost us on a number of times, which again, must lie at the feet of Bruce.
There were also the gutless performances in both derbies, including an away defeat that Newcastle United fans will lord over us for eternity. The gaffer was more than willing to talk up the game in the press in the lead up to the games, including the infamous tune at full time at the sol... Ultimately he was left looking more than a little silly on both occasions.
Which one moment summed up SAFC's entire season?
Sunderland vs Wigan. Truly an afternoon which summed this season up in one fixture. In a game in which Sunderland's injury hoodoo really hit home with Bardsley, Welbeck and Gyan all leaving the field of play from an assortment of injuries it was Wigan that took the lead from a screamer from Diame. The goal sparked Sunderland into life, a great headed equaliser from Gyan was the precursor to a tidy finish from Henderson and a penalty from Sessegnon. Even a late goal from Di Santo couldn't spoil the day.
A true rollercoaster of emotions in what proved to be a vital three points.
Of the loanees this season, which if any, would you like to see stay permanently?
Nedum Onouha. This was a 50/50 for me between Nedum and Danny Welbeck. However I can't see Manchester United willing to do any business for the forward unless big figures are on the cards, another loan spell would be more likely. The figures that have been speculated in the press for Onouha on the other hand are more realistic and the versatile defender would offer some flexibility at the back. Nedum is also the right age with his best years ahead of him.
Which player should be first out of the door in the summer?
Anton Ferdinand. Anton has been a decent servant to the club, been deployed in virtually every position across the back line this season and his application cannot be faulted. However as injuries have shown this season we require further strength in depth. Not just in defence to be fair, but across the whole pitch. I have picked Ferdinand because he nearly moved to Italy in the summer, so Bruce has obviously been keen to move the big fella on, so a transfer out may be beneficial to all parties.
Give us one player SAFC simply must sign this summer (within reason)...
Its a close call between Charles N'Zogbia and Sebastian Larsson for me. Its no secret that Bruce is an admirer of enigmatic winger N'Zogbia and his creativity, pace and flair on the wings is something that Sunderland have sorely missed for years now. I also think that Seb Larsson, who is available on a free, would perfectly compliment N'Zogbia on the opposite wing and his prowess from deadballs is again an aspect of SAFC's game that is evidently missing.
What was your personal highlight of the season, something we might not know about?
The madness following Gyan's equaliser in the derby. Finding myself on my back, in the row behind, hugging the young lads that sit there, my mate Simon placing an untold number of kisses on my forehead before I glanced up just in time to catch the old couple that sit in front of my friends and I finally cracking a smile. Magic.
And finally, any other thoughts or comments on how you feel the season went?
Unfortunately this season will be remembered for the Darren Bent's transfer and the collapse that followed. I don't think it can be underestimated how much an impact his departure made on the side, not just his goals, position as a striker at the club, but the effect that it had on morale within the squad.
Following Sunderland is never easy and this season probably summed that up more than most. Hopefully investment in key areas and more luck with injuries will see a more successful term next year.