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End Of Season Views From... Michael Graham

I am being forced by Roker Report to provide my views on Sunderland AFC and how they have done in the 2010-11 season. My name is Michael Graham. I am not a fan of Roker Report, I do not like Roker Report. I have worked with them, and podcasted with them, and that has made me like them even less. I was told that there would be money involved, but there is no money. There is only Simon's damp and dusty basement and the cattle prod with which he beats me to make me provide him with a weekly Captain's Blog for his website. So I am doing this against my will, and against my better judgement. Please send help.

In all seriousness, it has been a pleasure to associate myself with Roker Report these last few months and I hope it continues, and continues to grow, for a long time yet to come.

Now, lets get to the questions because as people who read me on a weekly basis, and listen to me on the podcast, will know, I like to waffle.

Player Of The Season?

Michael: This one will instantly get me in trouble with the Twitter lot again, who already appear convinced I "hate" Phil Bardsley seemingly based entirely upon the fact that I am not prepared to prostrate myself before him and acknowledge him as the finest full back and most splendid human being to grace the face of the planet since some bloke called Noah said to his Mrs "so... big boat, then. What you reckon, pet? Beats getting yer feet wet", but my choice is Asamoah Gyan.

The club have been forced to ask a huge amount of Gyan this season. I am sure that hoying him up front on his own amisdt an ever-changing line-up and asking him to carry us during his first year in a new country wasn't the plan when we signed him. He has been wayward at times, but ultimately, when I look at the most pivotal and crucial moments of the season, Gyan produced. After we got stuffed at St James and there was a real threat of it engulfing and defining our season, Gyan picked us up the next week against Stoke, and continued it against Spurs, and Chelsea. When we were on the brink of losing the home game against the mags, Gyan rescued us. When we were knee-high in the brown stuff at the SoL against Wigan, it was Gyan got us back in the game and gave us the platform to get a massive result.

That isn't to say I am not appreciative of Bardsley's efforts this season. I think he has been reasonably consistent and committed. I just don't think he has defended well enough and I certainly don't think he has excelled.

Young Player Of The Season?

Michael: Has to be Jordan Henderson, really. Barely 20 years old, played in just about every game, and stepped up to take a lot of responsibility to create and in many ways become the fulcrum of our side. He had a massive dip in form, of course, but they all have at some point or another yet it is surely testament to Henderson's importance to this team that when he struggles for form it is considerably more noticeable than it is for the rest. Small matter of the England cap too. For me, no one else comes even close.

Best Signing Of The Season?

Michael: I am a sucker for a footballer with a sublime first touch, so it has to be Stephane Sessegnon. Took him a while to show us his best, but what a fabulous little player he is. He is the kind of player you can build a whole team around and it must be considered something of a coup for the club to get him. He certainly doesn't look a run-of-the-mill signing.

Worst Player Of The Season?

Michael: Phil Bardsley, definitely. Only kidding. I know the South Americans are the easy targets here, but I don't think they have had enough opportunities to be considered the worst players of the season. I am going to say Darren Bent. It may seem bitter, and may be it is, but for someone who was expected to be the talisman and ambassador for this club, he let every single one of us down. His pretty half-hearted displays in the second quarter of the season, which included the two derby games, were tough to stomach. He owed this club and the fans much more of himself and much better than he gave them this season.

Most Disappointing Signing Of The Season?

Michael: A South American isn't going to be so lucky to escape mention in this one, I'm afraid. I had really high hopes of Christian Riveros. In the world cup he looked a cracking little player with superb support for the man in possession and a keen sense of how to look after a football. May be he needed more opportunities to show it, but either way he hasn't and it's a disappointment. I am not too disappointed though, in fairness, because Jack Colback has shown that he could well be precisely the kind of player I thought we were getting in Riveros.

Goal Of The Season?

Michael: Finally! An easy one! Asamoah Gyan's debut strike at the DW Stadium. It really was a goal of quite outrageous quality. A brilliant bit of wing play by Jordan Henderson, and for Gyan to control a volley like that when the ball was dropping over his shoulder on his weaker side was quite simply world class. Any player in the world would have been proud of that goal, and rightly so.

Game Of The Season?

Michael: I would have to say Wigan at home when we won 4-2. There genuinely felt like there was something important riding on it and it was so open. It was a game you dare not take your eyes off and when Henderson raked the ball into the top corner to make it 2-1 it was a very special moment.

If we are talking performance of the season, though, Chelsea away is the obvious answer.

Out of ten, what would you rate Steve Bruce’s performance as manager this season?

Michael: I have a lot of sympathy with Bruce this season. I think he was dealt a really crappy hand with Darren Bent's abdication and the plethora of injuries that befell the squad. Some things I think he deserves a lot of praise for. Selling Kenwyne Jones was a really gutsy decision that someone had to have the stones to make, and it was the right decision. He once again trimmed the squad of some deadwood and his signings, South Americans aside, have been solid in the present and encouraging for the future.

Of course the horrendous run will never be forgotten, and neither will our capitulation at St James, but to me the real measure of the manager will always be how they respond and fact is that Bruce ensured we bounced back from both.

I am going to give Bruce a 7/10 - He lost his 3 top scorers and his captain from last season's squad, largely through no fault of his own. Close to £40m worth of footballers ripped from his team, yet has still at the very least consolidated the club's position. How many teams in the bottom half last year could have taken a similar hit and stayed up? Given the context, I don't think that consolidation should equate to failure.

Which one moment summed up SAFC’s entire season?

Michael: The injury time equaliser against Newcastle at home. Loads of endeavor, didn't quite go to plan, but just about ended up in the right spot regardless.

Of the loanees this season, which if any would you like to see stay permanently?

Michael: If I had to pick only 1, it would be John Mensah. Granted, he has had another frustrating year with injuries but progress has definitely been made on that front. We shouldn't forget that his main injury this season was an impact injury felt at the hands of the likable yet perpetually clumsy Kevin Davies. That tackle would have injured anyone. The niggly muscle injuries that blighted his first season seem to be occurring less, and managing his fitness will only improve with experience. With Welbeck looking unlikely and Onuoha and Muntari looking expensive, Mensah appears to be the one who offers the value, even with the injury record factored in.

Which player should be first out the door in the summer?

Michael: George McCartney. I always liked McCartney in his first spell here, and I was delighted when we returned, but the injuries have taken a toll and now he is no more than an expensive drain on resources.

Give us one player you think SAFC simply must buy this summer (within reason)...

Michael: Bit of a left-field suggestion, but I am going to say Jamie O'Hara. I think he would fit in beautifully with what we have. Young, hungry, bullish, British, composed on the ball and can deliver some set-piece quality with his left foot. Likely wouldn't cost the earth either. I definitely think we need something fresh to add to the squad in central midfield next season. Zenden will not be here, Cattermole has a poor record with injuries and suspensions, and we can't take the chance of relying on David Meyler at this point. Plus, adding another player into the mix who likes to create will take a lot of pressure off the shoulders of Jordan Henderson and allow him more freedom to develop his own game.

What was your personal highlight of the season, something we might not know about?

Michael: 5 simple words uttered by John Mensah when we signed Asamoah Gyan - "May god grant him goals".

On a more serious note, it was a genuine pleasure to attend one of Niall Quinn's talk-ins. Seeing and experiencing first hand the passion and love our chairman has for our club puts a hell of a lot of stuff in perspective. Whatever is going on on the pitch, and whatever troubles may befall the club, Sunderland fans can feel privileged to know we will always be in it together with those running the club as a club united. That is a large reason of why I find it so frustrating to see so much vitriol from the fans directed towards Steve Bruce. Whether we personally rate Bruce or not, Quinny deserves our full backing for his "vision" and, until he tells us otherwise, Bruce is part of that vision.

And finally, any other thoughts or comments on how you feel the season went?

Michael: I think it is a season that for many will be tinged with disappointment. "Progress" seems to be the buzz word for the season (better than last year's offering of "next level" I admit) and many are adamant that none has been made. I am not sure, myself. I think progress is a hugely difficult thing to judge when looking at the football alone. Sir Alex Ferguson spent 3 years slowly maneuvering silent and invisible factors to the average supporter into a position from which they could converge and produce rewards on the football pitch. Just because it wasn't showing on the pitch during that time, it doesn't mean progress wasn't being made. When you play chess, check mate is achieved by the careful and patient positioning of all your pieces, not just the piece making the killer move. I am not saying it means progress definitely is being made, of course. I am just saying it isn't as clean cut as some might like to suggest.

Ultimately, I am quite content with how the season has gone. Could have been better, but far from a disaster. Roll on August.

Follow me on Twitter for yet more ramblings - @Capt_Fishpaste