End Of Season Opinion From... Richard Mason

Ian MacNicol

Joining us for the third day of opinion is someone who has covered Sunderland on a daily basis for several years for The Northern Echo, The Durham Times and a couple of other places too. A regular helper for us and someone who's opinions we hold in high regard, it's Richard Mason...

What are your thoughts on Sunderland's season as a whole?

Richard Mason: Hello, by the way - thanks for inviting me to slam this shrivelled corpse of a season down on the slab and pick its bones clean.

This season, for Sunderland, has been a near disaster. A lucky escape. There can be no dressing this up in any way. The summer signings of Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson promised much but even then it seemed the squad was low on quality. A failure to add more than one striker in the January and the baffling decision to let Ji and Fraizer Campbell leave without replacing them backfired. Fourth from bottom is no more than Sunderland deserved.

For much of this campaign, we were contemplating covering two - possibly three - teams in the Championship next term.

Do you feel the decision to replace Martin O'Neill with Paolo Di Canio was the right one?

RM: Initially, I was surprised. But while I refute that the game has changed since O'Neill has tasted success - it hasn't - he seemed to have completely lost his magic touch this season. It's baffling. Maybe, given time, he would have built a squad capable of climbing the table, but Ellis Short was - rightly - not prepared to take the gamble. I don't think Sunderland would have picked up the necessary points had Martin O'Neill stayed in charge.

The appointment of Paolo Di Canio a day later was a curveball. Possibly the most surprising managerial appointment on Wearside in the club's history. The most surprising appointment in the region since Joe Kinnear. Here we have a very volatile manager, inexperienced at the highest level, with a track record of ruffling feathers, who is charged with picking up at least two wins from three games in order to save his side. And, by jingo, he did it.

Who's your Player of the Season?

RM: Simon Mignolet by a country mile. By a country, actually. A whole country's length. I will put my neck on the line here and say that within the next five years, Simon Mignolet will be one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

The rest of the squad have been much of a muchness. Danny Rose has looked OK, but nothing more than that. There is little to no chance of him signing in the summer, so don't get too attached to him.

Game of the Season?

RM: Without a doubt, the greatest game of this season has to be, of course, Sunderland's trip to Reading earlier in the season. Hang on, not that one, West Brom. That's it. No, actually, Aston Villa.

Of course, I jest, Sunderland's best performance of the season came at St James' Park. Bit of a no-brainer, to be fair, but in a season of dross, this one was a rare diamond.

Goal of the Season?

RM: I liked Seb Larsson's against West Ham but David Vaughan's, against Newcastle, was a peach. A beautiful goal. As an aside, Sunderland generally seem to score good goals nowadays. There's been a few decent hits over the years. Stephane Sessegnon could have a section to himself on good goals. Shame they don't come along too much.

Do you think the quite public stance Di Canio has taken with regards to attitude and fitness with the players is the right call to make, or should he have gone about things differently?

RM: It's a gamble. These are players who were on their way out of the club anyway, and if Di Canio can use them to teach the rest of the squad a lesson, then great, it's worked. But if he disrupts the whole squad, will they work as hard for him again as they have in games under his charge so far?

Can you give us a reason or two to feel positive about the summer and next season from what we witnessed last season?

RM: You are still in the Premier League. Would you prefer Emirates Stadium or Huish Park? Thought so.

There's been a million-and-one players already linked to the club, but if you were in charge who would be your number one transfer target?

RM: Two new full-backs. Make it the absolute priority and work from there. Names, I don't know. Drag Alan Hutton back from his Spanish adventure and put in a cheeky bid for Luke Shaw from Southampton.

What's been your own personal highlight of the season, be it Sunderland-related or something else?

RM: Wigan winning the FA Cup. Great to see a team that value this country's greatest cup competition over the bloated cash cow that is the Premier League.

Finally, any further thoughts on what has been an eventful season for us?

RM: Christ. I thought you wanted to see the back of this campaign! No, no more thoughts. Just put this season into the file marked ‘burn', move on in the hope that next season will end well. The default position for a Sunderland supporter.

Thanks very much to Richard for his opinion on last season. Check out his work in The Northern Echo on a regular basis, as well as following on Twitter @MasonEcho

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