As we continue our analysis of the Sunderland first XI here on Roker Report, we reach a position that causes a lot of fallings out, and a whole world of debate among not only us here on the site, but among pretty much every Sunderland fan that I ever talk to. That's right, it's the issue of right back.
Phil Bardsley is certainly a player who polarises opinion. While a fair chunk of Black Cats fans must still love the bloke, as, in fairness, he was last term's player of the season, and came second in the overall voting this time around, there are as many who will list his faults at the drop of a hat.
So, now that you know the contenders, let's break it down further and have a look at the stats, to use them to see which side of the 'Bardo fence' has more reason to think it has things right.
There are only three contenders in our right back position, as mentioned above, Phil Bardsley, who made 19 appearances there, John O'Shea, who played there 17 times, and Craig Gardner, who slotted in on two occasions.
As Simon did with the left back slot yesterday, I'll start with the defensive side of things. Many would have you believe otherwise, but a full back's job is first to defend, then to bomb forward.
In relation to tackles, Bardsley tops the pile with 47 made, giving him an average of 2.5 per game. O'Shea is unsurprisingly second, given the amount of games that the three played, with 31, coming out at 1.8 per game, while Gardner only made one tackle in his 180 minutes in the position. That may suggest that Bardsley is quicker to commit himself than O'Shea, and that theory is perhaps cemented by the fact that the Mancunian Scot made a lot less clearances than his Irish teammate. While Bardsley only averaged 3.5 per game, O'Shea managed 5.6, a grand total of 95 across the year. Interestingly, Gardner's average is well up at 5.5 per game, as he made 11 in his short time in the position.
To put these numbers into context, the Premier League's Young Player Of The Year, Kyle Walker, averaged 2.6 tackles per game on average, and made 3.2 clearances.
So, if he is the marker with which we should gauge the performances of our own players, it's fair to say that Bardsley is among the top players in the league for the amount of tackles that he makes during a game, however the clearances that O'Shea had been forced to make probably has more to do with how Sunderland set up, and how successful their season has been, rather than anything more technical. We defend more than Spurs, and probably need to get rid of the ball quickly more than they do.
Surprisingly, when it comes to battles of an aerial nature, Bardsley is also shining. Despite being significantly shorter than O'Shea, the fiesty little fella actually won 13 duels on high balls, with O'Shea only managing nine. Gardner, incidentally, didn't manage any.
None of our contenders got any assists this season, although both Gardner and Bardsley got a goal each. Some wouldn't find that overly surprising, as the pair have a tendency to shoot from anywhere, but it shows that attacking from the position can bear fruit.
Another interesting point is the passing accuracy of the three players, while in this position. Although John O'Shea was given widescale stick for his inability to find a man early in the season when playing at right back (and I include myself in that) - he actually has a higher passing completion percentage than Bardsley, coming in at 72.6% ahead of Phil's 71.9%, although he did make almost 200 passes less, a considerable amount when you take into account that the two were only seperated by 180 minutes in their times filling the right back slot. Craig Gardner, as you may expect in a natural central midfield player, boasted almost 79%. If we look back to the afore-mentioned Mr Kyle Walker, his was closer to 83%, indicating that our full backs certainly have a lot of work to do in that department.
All in all, you can't fault Phil Bardsley's workrate, but the stats that I've put forward there don't tell the full story. For starters, it doesn't take into account the tackles that saw him miss a large chunk of the early season. There's 'going for it full throttle', and there's being irresponsible and reckless, which Bardsley has at times this season. It also doesn't show how many times he gets caught out of position, or breaks up an attack by having one of his 'Bardo' shots. Yes it's nice when it comes off, but let's be honest, it isn't that often.
O'Shea is even more difficult to analyse. He's clearly been at his best for us this season when playing at centre back, but Michael Turner's form would suggest that he will keep his place in the team once Wes Brown is fit again. Unfortunately, that means O'Shea moving to this position, and he certainly still has a lot to improve on, despite playing there for many years, sporadically, at Manchester United.
And although we haven't seen much of Gardner, there is enough to suggest that, against weaker opposition perhaps, he would be a good choice in the spot. He also has a lot to learn in the position, and it is unlikely that he will be used there a great deal, as Colback has at left back, but it is comforting to know that we have able deputies should the worst of injury plagues strike.
Personally, and this is an opinion piece too, I would like us to look at signing a new right back. I don't think that Bardsley has what it takes to be as competent a defender as we need him to be, and I would sacrifice Michael Turner to let Wes Brown and O'Shea play together in the centre. Whether or not that is the best option will surely be discussed when we reach centre backs...
Overall, I hope this has shown that we are generally okay in the right back slot, but it would be going some to claim that we are good, or better. It will be interesting to see what Martin O'Neill decides is his best option going forward, and it could be a position that we talk about with much interest once the transfer window gets in to full swing.