Michael Graham Provides His Views On Sunderland's Season

Victor Moses: Could he be the perfect signing for Sunderland?

Frankly, I can't believe I wasn't the first to provide my thoughts here, what with being a Roker Report Icon, but I suppose there's no harm in letting some of the others have their moment for a while.

You know who I am, and if you don't you haven't been playing close enough attention, and probably don't deserve to read this. It's Michael Graham, the one and only. Also known as Captain Fishpaste, or @Capt_Fishpaste if you're on Twitter, answering some menial questions set by our Roker Report overlord Simon Walsh.

So let's get on with this, here's the right answers...

Player Of The Season?

Michael: Getting the blindingly obvious out of the way first, eh? Good plan. Stephane Sessegnon will most likely be the unanimous choice, and he is mine too. He has had a wonderful season as the fulcrum of the side and whenever he has been on the pitch this season he has given you the impression he could produce something. For me, only John O'Shea comes close, and given his form since O'Neill arrived and moved him to the centre of defence, I think the former Manchester United man can count himself very unlucky to not find himself in real contention for the top gong.

Young Player Of The Season?

Michael: This one is obviously much tougher. James McClean has been the eye-catching impact player this season, and has taken the plaudits far and wide as a breakout star of the season. But I think that Jack Colback just has to shade it over McClean. Colback has been a steady and versatile member of the side all season, and with no shortage of genuine quality too.

Best Signing Of The Season?

Michael: This one has to go to McClean, hasn't it? Plucked from obscurity for relative pennies in the modern game, thrown in at the toughest moment of the season, and the rest is history. I would be amazed if there was a single set of fans anywhere in the Premier League who have watched McClean this season and not wished that it was their team who took the chance on him for the money we paid. Again, John O'Shea can feel very unlucky to not be in serious contention.

Most Disappointing Player Of The Season?

Michael: I would have to begrudgingly say Connor Wickham here. I appreciate he is a young player and very much one for the future, but the fact is that he arrived with a big fee and big reputation and, for whatever reason, hasn't come close to living up to either. I am certainly not writing Wickham off, though. He was signed with a long-term view and I still believe he has every chance of making sure everyone looks back on his Sunderland career fondly in years to come.

Goal Of The Season?

Michael: My answer to this seems to change depending on when I am asked. We have scored that many wonder-goals this season it's very difficult to settle on just one. So rather than try to analyse and judge them, I will simply go for my favourite, and for that I have narrowed it down to Connor Wickham's strike against Aston Villa and Stephane Sessegnon against Swansea. Amidst the spate of great goals that lit-up O'Neill's early days at the club, the sheer all round quality of Wickham's goal has been somewhat forgotten, but it was a goal simply seeped in class with a piece of trademark Sessegnon creativity and a crisp two-foot, two-touch finish from Wickham. But the sheer audacity of Sessegnon's goal just shades it for me. He simply had no right to score from the position he worked for himself and there wasn't even a hint of hit-and-hope about it. At the end of the day, it was a goal that only a special player could even conceive of, never mind pull off.

Game Of The Season?

Michael: Another two contenders for me here too, both memorable 1-0 wins. People question whether Lionel Messi could 'do it' at a rainy Britannia, but in February the lads went to a snowy Britannia and stood up to the challenge brilliantly. None of the traditional money-bags top clubs in the league have been able to come away from Stoke with a Premier League win this season, so Sunderland's achievement in very tough conditions should not be underestimated. Then of course there is the obvious. The colossal backs-to-the-wall performance at the SoL that proved to the country that Manchester City were beatable. I'll go for the win at Stoke, just to be different.

Who do you think Sunderland should be looking at buying this summer?

Michael: I think it is painfully obvious that the team needs a consistent penalty box presence and another player to go past people and inject some pace into the attack at opportune moments. Sorry to be Captain Obvious, but Steven Fletcher and Victor Moses look like being tailor-made for Martin O'Neill, the club's financial plans, and the current squad. Doubt there will be enough in the pot for a second big striker signing, though, so would expect a more experienced and cheap alternative to come in to, though I almost shudder to think who it might be.

There's also talk of a clearout. Is there a player you think might not be as safe as they'd consider themselves?

Michael: I just wonder about Michael Turner. I think that O'Neill will want to clear a little room for a 'take the lot' kind of physically domineering centre half he has always had before and Turner may be the fall-guy there. He will retain a little market value, command some interest, and make room for O'Neill to stamp his own authority on the defence. It may be wishful thinking on my part too, but I'd love to think it was finally Phil Bardsley's time to move on. O'Neill didn't fancy him in their Villa days and, again, I am not sure if he is defensively good enough for an O'Neill team. Actually, scrub that. I am sure he isn't good enough defensively. I was just being nice there. He is rubbish.

What was your personal highlight of the season?

Michael: My highlights both come from the FA Cup run. A real emotive highlight from a sporting point of view was Fraizer Campbell's goal against Middlesboro. He had endured a really tough time, and it was a special moment for him and I must admit I felt a little more joy for that goal than the occasion warranted. From a personal point of view, I brought my new son home merely minutes before the Arsenal cup game started. That meant I missed the chance to be at the game in person, but it was a special time in the sense that my home and life changed forever that day, yet there Sunderland were still sharing in my life-changing moment.

Do you think the improvement made under Martin O'Neill will continue into next season, and what should be the aim?

Michael: I see no reason to suspect otherwise. O'Neill's clubs tend to be defined by progress. He took over Wycombe as a non-league club and and left them in the league. He took Leicester from nowhere and left them a trophy-winning mid-table Premier League club with some experience of Europe. He reversed Celtic's fortunes in the Old Firm and had them very much on top, as well as relevant again in Europe, and so on. The aim should simply be clear progress. With the same old clubs no longer able to budget for guaranteed Champions League football, the upper echelons of the Premier League are more accessible than ever, as our neighbours have proven this season. No reason why we shouldn't be aiming for giving ourselves a chance at European football.

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