Richard Mason Provides His Views On Sunderland's Season

Was one of David Vaughan's screamers Richard's goal of the season? Read on and find out...

Our end of season extravaganza continues ladies and gentlemen as today, we bring you one of our favourite North East sports writers, and the man who got us the gig with the superb Durham Times, it's Richard Mason!

You'll know him from Twitter as @MasonEcho, and of course from The Durham Times, and The Northern Echo among other places, and of course he's regular at ground around the North East providing top quality insight wherever he lands. He's a pretty decent 'keeper too, or so we're told anyway.

Anyway, here's his thoughts on how Sunderland fared this season...

Player Of The Season?

Richard: You'd have to go with James McClean for player of the season, although I was reluctant to choose the winger as he only came into the team in November. But he played his part in Martin O'Neill's superb start to his reign which was undoubtedly the highlight of the campaign. He's the best Sunderland left-winger since Stewart Downing came in on loan. While he doesn't possess the class on the ball that Downing has, he makes up for that in tenacity and his final ball is almost always on the money. A truly exciting player.

Young Player Of The Season?

Richard: I've already said McClean, so I'll go with the same choice as I put forward last year - Simon Mignolet. He's done exceedingly well to keep two international goalkeepers in Kieren Westwood and Craig Gordon out of the side, saved a penalty at St James' Park and has proven to be a superb shot-stopping goalkeeper throughout the season. And he's still only young.

Best Signing Of The Season?

Richard: Martin O'Neill. Steve Bruce had lost the plot by August. He believed he had lost the fans after the Newcastle defeat at the start of the season, which is wholly incorrect. He had detractors from the start, and they became more vocal as time went on, but it was not the derby defeat - or his 'roots' - that did for him, it was the awful results over the whole of 2011 that ended his time on Wearside. He's coming across now as a very bitter man, which is a shame as I always quite liked him. O'Neill's appointment was the shot in the arm Sunderland needed. He's come in and done a superb job with the team largely built by Bruce.

Most Disappointing Player Of The Season?

Richard: It's difficult to say. I don't like mudslinging at the best of times, but this isn't a cop-out. I genuinely don't think there has been a disappointing player. They've all done their best, sometimes that's not been good enough. Nicklas Bendtner has struggled, shown signs of quality, been injured, but half a season isn't enough to judge him. Craig Gardner had a difficult start but improved when O'Neill came in, but you could say that for a lot of the players. The season has ended in mediocrity but I don't think that's borne out of a lack of effort.

Goal Of The Season?

Richard: Christ, there's been a few hasn't there? Fraizer Campbell's against Norwich was a decent hit, Craig Gardner has two or three that he could claim were the best - his goal against Swansea just edging his wind-assisted effort at Wigan. David Vaughan's goals against Wigan and Blackburn were virtually identical but superb all the same, Phil Bardsley's against Fulham and Everton in the cup were nice crisp efforts, Seb Larsson's free-kicks against Arsenal and Blackburn were pretty, but I'd have to say Sunderland's first goal of the season - Larsson at Liverpool - was my favourite.

Game Of The Season?

Richard: I enjoyed watching the Wigan away game. It embodied everything the team were about at the time, winning at all costs and winning well. They were absolutely flying at the time and had they started the season like that, we may have been sitting here looking at two North-East teams in Europe next season.

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

Richard: I'd be reluctant to plunder the likes of Wolves, Blackburn, QPR and Bolton wholesale, although all four have players that could improve mid-table to top-half teams. I like Steven Fletcher, Jamie O'Hara and Matt Jarvis; as well as Paul Robinson, Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Hoillett; Lee Chung-Young, Stuart Holden, Mark Davies and Martin Petrov - there's a long list, but I think it would be folly to buy what would fundamentally be a group of losers, to be blunt. Martin O'Neill will have his shortlist of players, he'll want a striker and a full-back at the very least, and with money expected to be tighter than usual, players will have to leave before many come in - so it could be an August deadline job. Fun.

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

Richard: I don't think any player is under any illusions. All of the players I've spoken to since O'Neill came in have said that they are expecting a clear-out over the summer and that nobody is safe. Obviously, Nicklas Bendtner, Wayne Bridge and Sotiris Kyrgiakos will be back off to their parent clubs, and Craig Gordon will be off to pastures new I'd imagine, but other than that I don't think any player will be more safe than his teammate.

What was your personal highlight of the season?

Richard: Fraizer Campbell's re-awakening. He was man of the match against Norwich, and while his contribution has lessened in recent weeks, a full pre-season behind him will do him the world of good. He had a superb pre-season two seasons ago before injury struck so every Sunderland fan knows what he has to offer.

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

Richard: Steve Bruce hated it, Martin O'Neill embraced it - expectation. Let's not bandy about the same old tired lines about "taking the club to the next level" or pushing on. Sunderland have achieved a mid-table position in a season of transition. Top half would be lovely, a good cup run would be welcomed, but lets not start piling pressure on the man - despite what he may tell you.

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Many thanks to Richard for his time, and be a dear, keep the local press going by buying your local papers. They're a very important part of the local sports scene. Also while you're doing things, follow Richard on Twitter too @MasonEcho

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