I'll admit it - there have been times this season, not recently though, that I would have advocated dropping Stephané Sessegnon from the first team. I put that mainly down down to frustration that things haven't gone to plan at all since the summer.
I was very keen at one point for us to put him on the bench in favour of a more traditional style of play that may have suited the rest of the squad more, but I'll gladly admit that I was wrong.
Over the past few weeks, if anything, the talented playmaker has proved to me and the rest of you just how lucky we are to have such a magnificent footballer in our squad.
Some of the criticism leveled at him has been warranted, though. He's had games where he's hardly gotten into them, particularly at the start of the season, and there have been times that he's been wasteful both in possession and in front of goal. The biggest gripe with Sessegnon this season amongst our fans has been that he needs to finish off more of the chances he creates for himself. It's has been true that he should have been more greedy in front of goal on more than one occasion.
There is no hiding from that. It has all been true at times this season. I'm not saying he goes without criticism.
What I am saying is that we will be immensely lucky if he's still here beyond the summer. He's a player suited to playing in a side at the top; a player that would flourish as one of the free roaming attackers in many of the big teams in Europe. We have to be cautious that we don't scare him off in the summer with the negative and dull style of play that we adopt.
No player is bigger than the club We've lost plenty of massively talented footballers in the past and moved on, but if we are to become the successful top ten side we hope to be, we cannot allow a player of his quality to slip through our fingers. We have to move forward and ensure that we bring in players of a similar quality that can work alongside him, and move away from the boring, monotonous style we currently adopt. We need pace and trickery for him to work with. We need to play more free flowing football and most importantly we need to do all of that before we risk losing our better players.
Sessegnon clearly loves being the main man in the team, but it can sometimes be a burden and Sunderland fans are guilty of expecting too much from him. It's imperative we ease that burden and bring in more quality, as eventually we'll piss him off to the point he'll end up leaving us behind.
It's time Sunderland AFC proved themselves to Sessegnon. We need to build this side around him.
There have been times he could have left in the past but he didn't. and that is important to remember. Despite the best efforts of his agent he stayed on Wearside and signed a new contract last year, a signal of intent that he had no plans of leaving in the immediate future. I'd expect it was signed on the promise that we'd bring in more top quality players, but so far we've not quite delivered.
Steven Fletcher is very much the type of player that thrives alongside someone like Sessegnon and it's no surprise he heads up the scoring charts, despite drawing blanks in each of our last five league games. Adam Johnson should be the type of player that shines alongside him, but we'd be being kind if we said he's had a good season. He's shown glimmers of what he is capable of but as of writing I'm not entirely sure he's shown his worth. By the same token though it could be argued we are misusing Johnson by expecting him to be shoehorned onto the wing for a full 90 minutes but that is a debate for another time.
Sess is expected to drop deep and win the ball but it's clear he's at his most effective when around the opposition's box, turning defenders inside and out. We need to allow him to push forward and we won't do that when our central defenders and midfielders are so poor when in possession of the ball. Titus Bramble showed on Saturday that he's utterly useless with the ball at his feet and John O'Shea isn't a whole lot better. Larsson battles hard but isn't the slick passer we crave alongside the blood and thunder of Cattermole or N'Diaye, meaning we spend huge chunks of the game without the ball - not good when Sessegnon, our most creative asset, is at his best when allowed to run at people.
Graham and Fletcher did very little to help against Fulham either. They're clearly a pair still trying to work out each other's game and neither really got going at the weekend. They weren't particularly aided by the horrific deliveries from our set pieces but again, that's a whole different debate intended for another time.
I guess this is a follow up to my blog last week - we need to make big changes in the summer to take us forward, something not everyone will be in favour of but a vital necessity if we are to improve year on year instead of finishing lower-mid table with each and every season. At the very least we need a couple of central players comfortable on the ball, and a forward with more pace and trickery that can get in behind defenders.
Without him on Saturday we'd be talking about another game lost and that should worry all of us, particularly Martin O'Neill. If we stay up but lose Sessegnon in the summer, entirely likely considering his ability and the under performance of our side ever since he arrived on Wearside, he'll be very difficult to replace. Players of his ability aren't exactly queuing up to sign for us and he cost a measly six million quid, a tiny amount when compared to the fees paid for much poorer players in recent transfer windows by Premier League teams.
I'm crossing my fingers that we have a vision to sell to him ahead of next season, something that is just enough to convince him staying at Sunderland for another year will be worth it. I don't think any of us could begrudge such a majestic footballer for leaving for pastures greener.
'Getting with the times' has never been more relevant for Sunderland AFC.