More often than not come this time of the season Sunderland are involved in important games of our own at the wrong end of the table. This season however we have a say in the destination of the Premier League title as we host Manchester United at the Stadium of Light, who will be confident of picking up the result they need whilst hoping Manchester City slip up against QPR.
As we begin to build up to the last game of this term we again turn our attention to a player who has represented both sides. This week sees a young lad who learned a lot during his spell on Wearside, a spell which helped impress Sir Alex Ferguson enough to involve the young lad from Belfast heavily in his first team plans since - Jonny Evans.
Evans' football career began with his local side Greenisland FC where he impressed scouts from the Manchester United Centre of Excellence and was invited to train at the academy. In turn Jonny was invited to train with the club in Manchester although Academy regulations which required players to live within an hour and a half of the club would severely restrict Evans' opportunities until his family made the decision to relocate to the North-West to assist their sons' chances of a career with the Red Devils.
The Evans' dedication to their sons' career paid off as the young defender appeared, rather surprisingly to many, in the squad which travelled to the clubs tour of South Africa in 2006 and in turn the Amsterdam Tournament. Manchester United's Belgian feeder club, Royal Antwerp, was next on the cards to further the youngsters experience as he joined the side along with Darron Gibson and two other names who's paths would also cross with SAFC, Danny Simpson and Fraizer Campbell.
In December of 2006 Evans was to swap Belgium for the North East as Roy Keane seemingly called in a favour with Sir Alex and brought the central defender to the Stadium of Light for the rest of the season on loan. Keane said of the deal:
Jonny looks a done deal. I am absolutely delighted with that because he will be a top player.
He is young, hungry and he is a tough lad. I have seen him play enough times.
Evans was joined by right-back Simpson as part of the deal and a familiar face around the training ground was no doubt a contributing factor in the ease in which Evans transitioned into Keane's side. The youngsters form in that Championship winning side was nothing short of remarkable. Jonny had an old, cultured head on those young shoulders and played with a confidence not normally seen in a player of his age, especially as a defender where most players learn their trade over years. Heck, Evans even looked calm and composed alongside the erratic Nyron Nosworthy, not an easy feat.
Keane was hopeful of extending Evans' stay on Wearside and so was Jonny:
I don't know what Manchester United's plans for me are yet because I've been so focused on trying to help Sunderland get promoted but I've enjoyed it so much that I would definitely think about staying here next season if they wanted me and United let me.
I'd rather be playing every week than sit on the bench. You have to have faith in your ability but you also have to be realistic and, when you look at the established defenders there are, you have to accept that, as a 19-year-old, you're not going to be keeping them out every week. It would be nice to go back and have a go though.
Evans and Keane got their wish, however a little later than maybe the boss would have wanted, as Jonny rejoined Sunderland in January of 2008 for another loan spell following a lack of opportunities at Old Trafford. Evans' loan spell also coincided with an awkward time for the young man as he was released on bail following allegations of rape, allegations which would later be proven to be false.
The promising central defender would again go on to impress in the Premier League with Sunderland and for a brief time there seemed to be hope that there may have been a chance his time with the club could have been made more permanent.
United is the club I support and to have the chance to make it there is still a great opportunity that no player surrenders easily. But if I was ever going to leave Man United, Sunderland would definitely be an option for me - if they want me.
Of course Sir Alex Ferguson had other plans and Evans has gone on to become an important part of his title challenging squad. Whilst often having to make do with appearances from the bench or covering injuries to either Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic, Evans, especially this season, has seen more football in a Manchester United shirt than ever before and his future looks bright with the Red Devils, unfortunately for SAFC.