Sunderland have been in desperate need of a clear out for some time now but a number of the players that top most supporters' "please leave" list have been tied to expensive contracts making them essentially unsellable. Finally, a number of them are out of contract this summer and while it's fair to say few fans would shed a tear if the majority left, there are one or two worth at least considering keeping around.
The fact that local lad Colback has already been offered a new contract speaks volumes. He is without a doubt the player with the most to offer amongst those whose deals run out at the end of the season, both now and in the long run. He's shown himself to be an able left back - although he would prefer not to be used there too often it seems - and looks tailor made for Poyet's midfield three, if the head coach continues to employ it. He provides balance as a left footer in the middle of the park, as well excellent ball retention and underrated ball winning abilities. Although he has turned down overtures from the club thus far, a sustained run in midfield might change his mind. Here's hoping it does.
Westwood started the season as Sunderland's number one and despite some questionable performances early on, had begun to grow into the role before picking up an injury at Hull. A clean sheet for Mannone against Manchester City later and the Irishman may well find it difficult to get back into the side. If he fails to return then it's unlikely he'd sign a contract even if he was offered one. This was Westwood's big chance to stake his claim as a Premier League first choice goalkeeper and after spending the majority of his Sunderland career up until now on the bench, the chances of him signing up for another 3-4 years of potentially more of the same are slim at best.
If things change and he makes his way back into the side and impresses, then the club could do worse than tie him down. He may not be brilliant, but Sunderland could probably do without having to look for another senior goalkeeper next summer whilst trying to bolster the same key areas of the squad that have needed improving for some time now. It should not be forgotten that his competition for the position was also only given a short term contract, which may actually help Poyet in the short term as both players are likely to be desperate to impress between now and the end of the season.
The Swedish midfielder has become a bit of utility man in his time on Wearside and whilst he can go missing in games, his work rate is something that can never be questioned. Successive managers have seen something in him and in a sense he has become a victim of his own popularity, with each new boss trying to shoehorn him into the side, often in roles he hasn't looked comfortable playing. When Sunderland are without the ball - as they were for long periods against Manchester City - he excels and like Colback, he looked instantly more comfortable in a midfield three where his ability to win the ball and screen the defence complimented the skills of his partners perfectly.
Unfortunately, he is also more than capable of throwing in completely anonymous performances too, particularly when the onus is on Sunderland to play more football and open teams up. In fairness to him though, his poorest displays have often come when he has been utilised in a midfield two, which is clearly not his best position.
Depending on his wages, he's a player that is worth keeping around for the aforementioned qualities. As Sunderland look to progress, he would more than likely become a bit part player but with big changes ahead, it must not be forgotten that a squad is needed and Larsson provides enough versatility and graft to warrant a place in it.
Like Larsson, Gardner is versatile and works hard but he also shares the Swede's habit of going missing in games, particularly when played in the centre of midfield. That said, given the opportunity to play in a midfield three, as he was under Kevin Ball, he does bring some useful qualities. He has a knack of getting into goal scoring positions and he presses well high up the pitch, as evidenced by his goal against Manchester United and the other chance that fell to him in the same game. Sadly, the second opportunity in front of goal also highlighted one of the worst aspects to his game; his tendency to dwell on the ball. If Poyet continues to go ahead with his passing philosophy, it's difficult to see place for Gardner in the side. Although he offers something different, it's not the kind of alternative the Uruguayan is likely to utilise and the negatives to his game outweigh the positives. With rumours abound that the ex-Birmingham City man might be sold this January, the chances of him being offered a new deal look remote.
Next we go from an auxiliary right back in Gardner to the mainstay full back of the Sunderland squad for the past few years, Phil Bardsley. The Mancunian defender has recently returned to the side after being frozen out by previous manager Paolo Di Canio, more for his off the pitch antics than anything he was doing wrong on it. In fairness, he is currently justifying his selection by putting in the sort of determined and dogged performances we've come to associate with him.
Is that enough to warrant a new deal though? Given the way Poyet wants his team to play football, surely now is the time more than ever before for Sunderland to solve the full back problem that has blighted the club for years by bringing in players capable of using the ball as well as winning it. If I'm honest, I've never been a huge fan of Bardsley but I have to admit that sometimes you need a player like him in the squad and he is seemingly very popular with his teammates. Ultimately though, given his reported wages and limited technical ability, now seems like an ideal time for the club to cut ties with him.
Ji is an interesting one. If reports are to be believed, Sunderland could have had £5m for him in the summer but for whatever reason opted to keep him and sell the infinitely more talented - and no doubt better paid - Stephane Sessegnon. Ji has hardly repaid the faith shown in him and under Di Canio's management he looked bereft of confidence. He briefly reappeared during Kevin Ball's short stint in charge and looked more assertive and even tried to involve himself in the game, which was the complete opposite of the shrinking, hiding player who had previously put in shocking performances at Crystal Palace and against MK Dons in the League Cup.
Since Poyet's arrival, he has disappeared from the first team match day squad. Like Gardner, rumours have begun to surface that the South Korean will be on his way in January and for no doubt significantly less than that £5m offered during the summer. Although he is only 22 and with a potentially decent future ahead of him, it seems that it would be best for both club and player if he realised it elsewhere.
Dossena has a difficult job on his hands getting back into the Sunderland first team after his suspension for a disgraceful challenge on David Meyler at Hull. Unless he does, he is going to find it impossible to win himself an extended contract by proving his ability. He was signed on a short term contract as a short term solution to a long term problem and as things stand he has to dislodge an in form Bardsley from the side if he is to give any sort of account of himself. Given that Bardsley is also fighting to prove his worth, it could be a long road back to the first team for the Italian. That said, on paper at least, he has the right attributes to play the sort of role Poyet asks of his full backs but without evidence of him actually doing it, there is little chance of his contract being extended.
Now we're getting to the definitely let go category. Cuellar was only ever really signed as a stop gap and has probably played more football than he should have done since arriving when Martin O'Neill was in charge, which simply highlights how many problems we've had in the squad in recent years. Initially, it looked like he was going to be a regular starting partner for John O'Shea under Poyet but with Wes Brown back in the fold, even his place on the bench isn't certain. Diakite and Roberge may not have showered themselves in glory in their short Sunderland careers up until now, but given time, they may adapt and improve, whereas Cuellar has shown us the best he has to offer and frankly, it isn't good enough.
I had a sneaky feeling the Welsh midfielder might find his way back into the side under Poyet as part of a midfield three. He was promptly shipped out on loan to the Championship and I was happily proved wrong in my prediction. Vaughan did impress for Blackpool in a similar midfield setup to the one Poyet employs but time has passed since then and his already slow legs have ground almost to a halt. The fact he has been deemed surplus to requirements now means there is simply no chance of him getting a new contract in the next few months. He'll quietly disappear, leaving us with a wonderful derby goal to remember him by.
Although Celustka is here on loan, he is worth considering in this contract expiry context as the deal that brought him here includes an option to buy. Thus far he's shown enough to suggest he warrants being a part of this squad in the long term. Indeed, after the first few games of the season he was beginning to look our best signing despite arriving with little fanfare as a relative, if not complete unknown. Assuming he commands a moderate fee and wages, a permanent deal is certainly worth considering, particularly if he continues to be selected and builds upon his initial good form.