Feels like it's been quite a while after seven games in the month of March, but it's finally time to announce our Player Of The Month, calculated by averaging out the scores we give to the players post-match from the entire month in an effor to try and get a fair reflection on how things went.
It's been a busier month as you know, and as a result the squad has been tested to the limit with over 20 players seeing some game time. The fact we're still where we are in the league after chopping and changing so much, something Martin O'Neill has been reluctant to do so far, is yet another testament to the manager himself that he can pluck people from the cold to come in and do a decent job.
Anyway, it's time to get on with this month's winner, a man who sat out a few games, but still had a remarkable March, it's John O'Shea...
O'Shea has had a great month, and when standing in as captain in the absence of Lee Cattermole, O'Shea rose to the occasion with some style.
Big John's confidence and assurance on the pitch has rubbed off on Michael Turner too, has become a very competent partner for O'Shea, and it's notable that alongside Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Turner's performances, and the team in general's dipped somewhat.
Performances have been up in the main from our players this month, but this is about O'Shea, so here's what the rest of our writers had to say about O'Shea...
David Boyle: Good old John O'Shea. I'm delighted to see him pick up the Player of the Month award as his performances as of late have been fantastic. I think we were all a little disappointed with O'Shea upon his arrival and few would have expected his partner in crime Wes Brown to have made a more immediate impact but the Irishman has certainly come good, as have many, since O'Neill's arrival. O'Shea's improvement came upon his move to the centre of the defensive line where he has been able to have more of an influence around him and must have pockets deeper than Scrooge the amount of strikers he has collected recently, with notable captures of Robin Van Persie and Luis Suarez to name but a few. It has been no surprise that we look more vulnerable at the back without O'Shea and I hope he makes a speedy return.
Michael Graham: Whenever I get asked who is the greatest single contributor to Martin O'Neill's Sunderland revival, it isn't James McClean or Stephane Sessegnon I hail, but John O'Shea. The Irishman has been O'Neill's general on the pitch, marshaling the defence upon which much has been built into an organised and formidable unit with a quiet and calming authority. Perhaps the greatest measure of how important he has become is how much he was missed against Everton, where the team visibly wilted under the pressure of expectation. It may have taken a little while, but we are finally seeing the player that the Manchester United fans were sad to see leave.
Chris Weatherspoon: John O'Shea: the only man with deeper pockets than Warren Buffet. Not content with his acquisition of Robin van Persie in February, he decided to pop Papiss Cisse and Luis Suarez in there in March, as a sparkling partnership with Michael Turner kept the Black Cats' back door shut on a regular basis. Derided for his supposedly poor distribution in the past - it's not actually bad at all, but that's not what I'm getting at - the Irishman has really shone defensively, and brought the inconsistent Turner on leaps and bounds. His absence in the defeat at Blackburn induced chaos in the Sunderland backline; it was an unfortunate reminder of just how important he has become to Martin O'Neill's side. The cup defeat at Everton too could owe much to his spell on the treatment table. Where ten days previously Sunderland had dealt ably with pretty much everything the Toffees had to offer, this time around they look nervy under every high ball, and generally disjointed. Put simply, O'Shea is proving himself to be an integral part of the side, and perhaps the best defender in a red and white shirt since Steve Bould rocked up for a half season of excellence. All these good performances then dashing off after the match to present Take Me Out? No wonder he's knackered.
Dan Williams: There's nothing that 'Roker Report icon' Michael Graham enjoys more than to tell me that I'm wrong. You can therefore imagine his joy when, before Christmas, I claimed that John O'Shea had been "a bit crap". In this instance, I'm more than happy to concede defeat, as the ex-Manchester United man has been in superb form recently, marshalling an ever-improving defence, and making Michael Turner look like a worldbeater alongside him. As the other lads have pointed out, it was easy to see that we missed his influence against Everton in the cup, and it's no surprise that we put in our worst performance at the back without him in the team. As we recently discussed on the podcast, O'Neill has a big decision to make when Wes Brown is fit, as O'Shea looks more assured at centre-back than his does on the right, but it is finally the kind of defensive headache that we've been hoping for now for what seems like years. Kudos John O'Shea, feel free to keep proving me wrong for the rest of the season, sir.
Karl Jones: I think Michael has summed it up nicely there. A lot is made of having a Manchester United background but over the past month in particular, we have seen at close quarters just why John O'Shea was so longevous at Old Trafford. He has marshalled Sunderland's backline superbly - with perhaps his stand-out performance coming at the Sports Direct Arena. During this month he and Michael Turner have both excelled at the heart of Sunderland's defence; Turner's form momentarily straying from him as O'Shea left his side due to injury. With Martin O'Neill aiming to finish the season on a high after the FA Cup setback, O'Shea's presence in the team will give Sunderland a sturdy rearguard on which to secure back-to-back top-half finishes.
Now let's give a full run down on how everyone else did, including seeing who's been on the up and up, and who has slipped a little...
01/03/12 to 31/03/12
As you can see, marks up nearly across the board as the Party With Marty continues in fine fettle. Sotirios Kyrgiakos hasn't quite had the impact we'd hoped in O'Shea's absence, but after Matt Kilgallon's top performance against Manchester City recently, we're looking alright until the big man returns.