Trimming The Fat: Who Should We Keep This Summer?

Michael Regan

Martin O'Neill's frank admission recently that his squad "lacks quality" was hardly a surprising one given the events of this miserable season. While there are plenty whom the manager would probably like to move along this summer, getting rid of everyone would leave a thin squad even thinner. So, assuming the disaster of relegation is averted, who from the squad's fringes should we keep? And who should we get rid of?

NB. This article is written on the premise of two events occurring. Firstly, that Sunderland avoid relegation this season, thus preserving their status as a Premier League club come this summer's transfer window. Second, it assumes that Martin O'Neill will look to build his squad substantially in the summer, be it through acquiring new signings of promoting from the youth ranks.

Keiren Westwood - Get Rid

Assuming the club can hold onto Simon Mignolet - a task they should put high on their list of summer priorities - it makes little sense to keep Westwood at the club. Having two quality goalkeepers at the club is, of course, advantageous, but it makes little sense for one of Sunderland's current stature.

Westwood won't be on huge money, but the added hit on an increased wage packet for Mignolet will likely leave the club sending out a hefty monthly outlay on two stoppers, one of whom never plays. Westwood has proven himself at Championship level, and it is unlikely that there will be no one looking to procure his services. Should a Premier League side come in for him, a scenario not beyond the realms of possibility, O'Neill could secure decent money for the Irishman, some of which could be used to bring in a cheap replacement. Alternatively, one of the club's young keepers - Ben Wilson or Jordan Pickford - should be given a chance to prove their future worth.

Wes Brown - Get Rid

Though Brown remains, arguably, the club's best central defender, his injury record is simply too much of a hindrance. Call it 'John Mensah' syndrome, if you will.

After managing 20 consecutive starts at the beginning of his Wearside career, Brown has managed just two appearances since, and none of them this season. His last first team outing for the club came in the 1-1 home draw in the FA Cup against Middlesbrough - 14 months ago.

Signed in Steve Bruce's final, busy summer window, Brown's wages are undoubtedly a drain on club finances. With John O'Shea and Carlos Cuellar already in the side, not to mention the terrifying backup of Titus Bramble, it makes little sense to continue splurging money on a player who has offered nothing (through no fault of his own) to the side this season.

Matt Kilgallon - Get Rid

There's little really to be said about Matt Kilgallon, other than that, a few fleeting good performances aside, he has proven himself not worthy of permanent Premier League football. Still a year short of 30, Kilgallon could do an excellent job for a second tier side, and, with his contract up at the season's end, it would make sense to allow him to do just that. One of Martin O'Neill's first dips into the summer market should concern his defence, and getting rid of some of the deadwood will clear room for this to happen.

Phil Bardsley - Keep

Keeping a man who has performed so badly as Bardsley this season would at first glance seem a ludicrous move. The ex-Supporters' Player of the Year winner has had a woeful term this time around, not helped by injury, but even last year he was proving himself poor at some of the defensive basics.

Yet, such is the state of this Sunderland squad, keeping him as mere backup is a necessity. Bardsley is currently the only "proper" full-back on the club's permanent books, with loanee Danny Rose the only other wide defender on Wearside (save for those in the Black Cats' youth ranks). It is a shocking state of affairs and one that should never have been allowed to come into being, but, since it has, Bardsley should be kept for a season more at least.

David Vaughan - Undecided

For all many of us have wanted David Vaughan to prosper on Wearside, the reality is that he offers little different to the rest of the squad's lacklustre central midfield. O'Neill's continued selection of Seb Larsson in central midfield has baffled plenty but, in truth, there is little that can be said that aids the argument of choosing Vaughan ahead of the Swede.

Vaughan had previously worked best for Sunderland as a man coming on from the bench, adding some drive against tiring opposition. Sadly, even that attribute has now come to elude him. The Welshman fails to stand out from a distinctly average crop, and is clearly favoured less than Larsson.

It is a sign of the squad's lack of numbers, then, that - just like Bardsley - Sunderland cannot really afford to lose Vaughan. Even allowing for heavy work by Martin O'Neill this summer, the squad is currently so paper-thin that loosing another player would make a substantial task of acquisition even harder for the manager. Should full-backs be signed, Craig Gardner and Jack Colback can be added into the midfield ranks, and Vaughan should be let go. But, if that doesn't happen, Sunderland simply can't lose more numbers from their ranks.

Connor Wickham - Keep

A no-brainer, really. Wickham remains just 19 and, for all his critics - most of which are ludicrous - he still has a chance to live up to the potential many thought he had at Ipswich Town.

Signed for £8m, the chances of the club retrieving that money now are almost non-existent. His appearances on Wearside have been sparing; his goals even more sparse. The consensus seems to be that Martin O'Neill is unwilling to stake a chance on the youngster.

Even so, his few showings in red and white have offered a glimpse of a player who could yet become a star. Inconsistency has been the theme of his Sunderland career but, when he has played well, he has been impressive indeed. At Norwich City this season he was outstanding, and his brute strength is an attribute that could see him moulded into a key player in years to come. Getting rid of a young prospect such as Wickham now would be a scandalous lack of faith, not to mention sealing him as one of the club's worst ever transfer dealings.

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