Time to crown our Player Of The Season. What an honour eh? Last season in our first of these types of thing Stephane Sessegnon took the prize but this year we've a new champion.
That man is of course, Simon Mignolet. Not without competition from Danny Rose and Alfred N'Diaye, the Belgian has risen the highest to claim the honour. Simon, your certificate is in the post, although you'll have to pay for the framing.
It's been a magnificent season for Mignolet, which has seen him take his game to another level entirely. There's a reason the likes of Arsenal, Barcelona and Manchester United are sniffing about him. He's made crucial saves at crucial times and for my money he's won us more points than any of our strikers or goalscorers.
Here's some thoughts on his season from the rest of the team:
Michael Graham: What more can be said about our Belgian 'keeper? Never before has a Sunderland player seemed more obviously destined for the top than Simon Mignolet.
At times it has seemed like he has been on a one-man mission to keep us up and in the end that is exactly what he did. He made big saves at big moments - it is what top goalkeepers do. I am not sure there will ever be a more worthy recipient of the Player Of The The Season award. Well played, sir.
Craig Clark: It comes as no surprise that Mignolet is player of the season. He's been a consistent game saver on more than one occasion. That doesn't really do him justice. In many ways he's been our season saver. Crucial points earned against the likes of Fulham, Norwich and Southampton had as much to do with Mig's reflexes as the goals we scored. He's developed his game from raw talent, to brilliant goalkeeper, easily amongst the top 5 in the league. His shot stopping has never been in question but he now dominates his area and uses his physique superbly to deal with one on one situations. The weakest part of his game, his distribution, is coming along nicely too. Now we are left to hope our player of this season is still here next time around to help us push on up the table.
David Boyle: Like a beacon of light across a troubled and tempestuous sea, Simon Mignolet has been one of the very few highlights of this all too forgettable season. Mr. Consistency has proven each and every week to be worth his weight in gold to this football club and has blossomed into arguably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. Sure Sky Sports will continue to laud David De Gea at Manchester United as the goal keeping poster boy for the EPL but the fact is that Mignolet has managed to garner his reputation behind a makeshift defence at a club that has flirted with disaster for the majority of this term, not one that won the Championship at a canter, an altogether more impressive achievement if you ask me.
Mignolet has the lot. Shot stopping, check. Positioning, check. Command of his area, check. Concentration, check. Even when he does drop the rare clanger, West Brom at home being the only blot on his copy book this season for example, his head does not drop and if anything it spurs him on to improve and redress the balance. The fans appreciate this characteristic and reacted not with groans following that gaff but with a chorus of support.
While all speculation at present surrounds Paolo Di Canio's imminent mammoth recruitment drive this summer, Sunderland fans should also brace themselves for rabid interest in their Belgian ‘keeper. Arsenal have already reportedly tested the waters with a measly bid which was refused out of hand, however you wouldn't bet against Arsene Wenger returning with a larger offer with the added enticement of Champions League football on offer.
Retaining the services of Mignolet has to be the club's number one priority this summer, a nice new contract should suffice and no-one could deny the lad hasn't earned it.
Chris Weatherspoon: Well, duh. In a season as horrid as ours, it's fairly staggering to find that we've actually kept eleven clean sheets in the league this season. ELEVEN. WITHOUT A RECOGNISED RIGHT FULL-BACK THAT ISN'T PHIL BARDSLEY!?! Much of this is down to the Belgian chap between the sticks. Simon Mignolet, to the keen eyed, always had the makings of a decent top level goalkeeper. Even in his first season here, he pulled off some daft, 'he should never be able to save that' sort of saves, but they were tempered by some even more daft 'yeah, he really probably should have saved that' sort of misses.
This season, he's dispensed with the latter and gone all in on the former. He has, without doubt, been outstanding. How he didn't get into the PFA team of the year is a travesty, one of Britain's great miscarriages of justice. I can't even list all of his stunning saves this year without giving myself a headache. Nolan at West Ham. Maloney at Wigan. Cisse at the Mags. Twice. There was one at Fulham. At home to Southampton (before Puncheon popped in the rebound, which was another cruel twist of fate). There's just too many. They should compile a video of all his saves this season and give it to every budding keeper to study. Then masturbate over. He commands his box better too, and comes to collect balls from corners in a manner entirely alien to Sunderland keepers of the past decade. His kicking remains a weakness - though that is also down to the side's unwillingness to embrace a game that involves, you know, passing the ball on the floor from defence with any sense of regularity - but Sunderland could not hope for a safer man guarding their net.
Luke Bowley: Without Simon Mignolet, Sunderland would have been relegated this season. It's hard to think of the last goalkeeper who has had such an effect on the club, or one who has won the team as many points. The Dolph Lundgren look-a-like has been simply magnificent this season, producing consistently excellent displays all season, even while all was crumbling around him.
He has made vital saves all season, some of which left you with several seconds of absolute bemusement as you wonder how the opposition haven't scored, before you have to pick your jaw up from the floor and look in awe at this God like figure between the goalposts. There was the point blank reflex save from Arouna Kone at home to Wigan; the stunning acrobatic save from Kevin Nolan at Upton Park; his save with his feet from Dimitar Berbatov at home to Fulham, with the score at 1-2, right before Sunderland went up the other end and equalised; and, perhaps most crucial of all, his save from Papiss Cisse at St James Park, just moments after Sunderland had taken the lead.
Of course, Mignolet has always been a terrific shot stopper. However this year he added more to his game. His positional sense has improved greatly; as has his control of the box. In tricky games against West Ham and Stoke, Mignolet has refused to be bullied, punching and catching crosses and set-pieces with ease. On top of it all, he's also the subject of one of the greatest football chants of the year.
This has been the year where Mignolet became a truly great modern goalkeeper. While major sports broadcasters and organisations picked David De Gea or Petr Cech as their goalie of the season, for keeping Sunderland in the Premier League, and for being wonderfully consistent throughout a torrid campaign for his team, Mignolet was the pick of the Number One's in this seasons Premier League.
And now we look at the full table. As you know, these scores come from our own player ratings which we dish out after every game and are averaged out each month to crown a monthly winner. Here's the scores for the games played this season:
It's a surprise to see N'Diaye up there, but if you factor in how we calculate these, judging how they've done in the games they've played, it's certainly worthwhile. The system works. Disappointing years for the likes of Kilgallon, Bardsley and Graham are all backed up by the popular opinion and compound the fact they're no longer needed.
If you were wondering where those who have left the club would have fit into the table, here's how they were scored:
As you can see then, not many -- if any -- were worth keeping. It also goes to show what an unmitigated disaster the likes of Saha and McFadden were, whilst we shouldn't be too bothered about Fraizer Campbell or David Meyler.
But let's leave behind those who left and raise a glass to the man of the moment. Simon Mignolet, we salute you!