Following on briskly from David Boyle's rather solemn look at the less desirable aspects of the season gone by, it's now my turn to regale you with the top ten moments of Sunderland's latest year. Despite the melancholy mess that has been 2011 thus far, I actually found myself sitting with a register detailing twenty enjoyable events from the lads in red and white. Mercy is not high on the albeit small list of Roker Report attributes (I jest), and so I was told to cut my list down to size. Many of you may disagree with me, and to those people I say this list was based upon how they made me myself feel as an individual. Some of you may agree entirely with me and look upon me forever more as some sort of Godlike entity, and to those people I say you are extraordinarily wise. Regardless of whether you agree or not, the end product is detailed below...
Number 10... Phil Bardsley's Winner At Aston Villa
Our workmanlike player of the season has had a few memorable moments this year. Whilst his early strike against the visiting Chelsea in February ranked high on the 'Oh bloody Nora what the hell just happened' list, and his screamer against West Brom was technically sublime, it was his late winner at Aston Villa that most took everyone by delightful surprise. With onlookers no doubt screaming "DON'T SHOOT" after months of watching Bardo try and fail, the man from Salford unleashed a rocket, we journeyed back from the Midlands with three more points on the board, and dreams of Europe remained (for at least a little while) firmly intact.
Number 9... Stephane Sessegnon Scores At West Ham
Now before you launch into a spit-flecked tirade at your computer screen, telling me I'm an idiot for picking a goal from a nothing game against a relegated side, hear me out. Whilst effectively sealing a game that ensured a top ten finish, and no small amount of extra prize money, Sessegnon's goal at Upton Park had the added effect of giving us all some genuine hope for next season. Whilst many foreign imports take the best part of a year to settle into English football, the Benin international seems to have fast-tracked himself through this. Although initially struggling, in the last two months our January signing from PSG seems to have found his feet, and looks a truly exciting prospect for next term. Ignoring the lack of defensive prowess from the hapless Hammers, his long dribble and strike past Rob Green suggested he will be worth every penny of the £6 million Steve Bruce shelled out for him after Christmas.
Number 8... Darren Bent Leaves It Late Against Arsenal
Loathe as I am to mention Mr. Bent in such a joyous and uplifting article as this, it is impossible to deny the sheer delight this strike brought back in September. Trailing to the most fortuitous of Cesc Fabregas goals, we toiled endlessly against the Gunners for seemingly little reward. Refusing to relinquish the game easily, a melee broke out in the Arsenal box as the clock ticked towards a fifth minute of the four extra that were signalled. With Monsieur Wenger gesticulating furiously at his Rolex, the ball fell almost inevitably at Bent's feet, and the supreme goal-poacher made little mistake in salvaging a vital late point. The resultant celebrations made it feel like the greatest of wins, and it was undoubtedly a vital moment in keeping our early season momentum ticking over.
Number 7... Jack Colback's Emergence
With the Stadium of Light treatment room filling up more frequently than an American roadster, and a squad shorn of previous years' deadwood, Steve Bruce required someone from the much-lauded academy to make the move up into the first team. Step forward Jack Colback. Largely unimpressive in his rare substitute appearances in the past, the latter part of this season has seen the young midfielder truly settle in the Premier League. Xavi-esque on the ball (an enormous exaggeration, yes, but you have to admit it sounded good), strong in the tackle and bearing a maturity that belies his tender age, Colback has well and truly staked his claim for a regular starting birth next year.
Number 6... Jordan Henderson's England Call-Up
A little further along the Academy of Light spectrum sits Jordan Henderson. A barnstorming start to the season meant he found himself selected for the full England squad for the first time at the age of just twenty years-old, and Bob Murray's decision to invest so much of his money in youth was instantly vindicated. That Fabio Capello continued his reign of tactical inadequacy and played Henderson in the wrong position is but a minor misery; the real joy here was the national recognition of his talents. With the aforementioned emergence of Colback and a whole fleet of local lads biting at the ankles of the first team as the season came to an end, we can but hope that even more England caps soon come to find themselves in the hands of products from the north-east.
Number 5... Asamoah Gyan's Arrival
The rapid growth of Twitter has certainly made the already exciting field of football transfers an even guiltier pleasure for many football fans. For Sunderland devotees, one would be hard pressed to find a more notable example than the eventual signing of Asamoah Gyan last summer. No sooner had the Ghanaian touched down at Newcastle Airport before his picture was snapped by an enterprising jet-setter, uploaded to the Internet and dispersed to countless computer screens. After seemingly endless rumours and false dawns (we never do these things quickly, do we?), Gyan put pen to paper, and Wearside had a World Cup star in its midst. His signing underlined the ambition of his new club, and ten goals scored in his opening season mean he already finds himself adored by red and whites from Seaburn to Accra.
Number 4... Asamoah Gyan Bundles In A Derby-Day Equaliser
Staying on the topic of our Ghanaian frontman, arguably his most enjoyable goal came against our pesky neighbours from up the road. Talks of avenging the horrors of Halloween had been rife in pre-match interviews for weeks prior to the second Derby of the season but, when it came down to it, our young team felt the pressure once again. Mercifully, the rather weak gates of defence weren't battered down as they had been in October, but a cheeky backheel from Kevin Nolan (twat) meant we found ourselves facing a demoralising loss at the hands of Newcastle once more. A modicum of late pressure and pride came from Bruce's men and, with Steve Harper able only to parry Phil Bardsley's initial effort, the ball rebounded home off Gyan's...erm...well, some part of Gyan, and the latest of points was secured. With the away end instantly reduced to silence, the roof came off the Stadium of Light, Bruce set forth on a merry run, and Asamoah Gyan joined Patrice Carteron in the foreign section of our Derby-day heroes.
Number 3... Jordan Henderson's First At Home To Wigan
With no strikers on the field, defeat a distinct possibility and the threat of relegation looming ever larger, we were in rather dire straits against Wigan. Devoid of a win for three months, Sunderland needed a leader and, in Jordan Henderson, they found one. When Sulley Muntari's ball into the box was fired over at chest height, Henderson managed to take the ball down and forward with expert skill, before lashing home the most sumptuous of half-volleys. The net bulged and the ground roared; so empathic was the finish that the tone was set for a quickfire goal blitz, and safety was virtually assured for another year at least.
Number 2... Craig Gordon's Save Against Bolton
For years hampered by the £9 million pricetag placed firmly on his head by Roy Keane, Craig Gordon has often found it tough going in winning over the Black Cats faithful. No more. Already having shown his goalkeeping excellence by displacing the hugely impressive Simon Mignolet, our shielding Scot comprehensively underlined his role as the squad's number one stopper just a week before Yuletide festivities took place. Zat Knight, all of three yards out, directed the ball towards goal, and the Wanderers appeared to have drawn level. But, instead, Gordon swivelled instantaneously then stuck out a palm, scooping the ball, somehow, over the bar. Several television replays were required to determine what the hell had just happened, and the man from Edinburgh went on to keep a clean sheet in an important 1-0 victory.
Number 1... Asamoah Gyan Makes It Two At Stamford Bridge
I have little doubt that most, if not all readers will disagree with my choice here. "What about Nedum's mazy dribble and finish before half-time?" I hear you ask, or Danny Welbeck latching onto an Ashley Cole backpass and sealing the most unlikely of wins? But no, for me, Sunderland's second goal at Chelsea was the crowning moment of that game and our season. Travelling to Stamford Bridge on the back of 7-2 and 5-0 reversals in our last two visits there, we found ourselves one up at half-time through Onuoha's aforementioned wondergoal. With our first-half profligacy meaning the advantage was much slimmer than it should have been given the performance, the majority of red and whites no doubt feared a post-break Chelsea backlash. And yet, startlingly, the second half continued where the first had left off. Allowing the hosts scarcely an inch of room, nor very much of the ball, Sunderland dominated the previous season's champions, and were duly rewarded once more just before the hour mark. Neat interplay was complimented by a beautiful through ball from Jordan Henderson, before Asamoah Gyan stroked a delightful effort past Petr Cech in front of a dumbfounded set of Blues fans. Corner flag dancing ensued, with Boudewijn Zenden breaking out a rendition that will undoubtedly live long in the memories of those that witnessed it. In fact, I'm laughing now while writing about it. More importantly, the goal showed that that day was our day, finally, and that there'd be no way back for a side worth countless times more than our own.
Don't forget to download and listen to the Roker Report Podcast! Its by us, for you, completely free and the home of semi-decent banter about SAFC every Thursday, come and get! SUBSCRIBE ON ITUNES HERE!