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Jonathan Wilson Provides His View On Sunderland's Season

Seb Larsson has mightily impressed Jonathan this season.
Seb Larsson has mightily impressed Jonathan this season.

Eagle-eyed, or long term readers of Roker Report will know that come the end of the season, we like to not only provide our own opinions on the season, but also bring to you opinions on the club from people in the know. That's why we're bringing you a weeks worth of thoughts and analysis from the best in the game.

We're kicking off the week with one of the most well known and respected writers to come out of Sunderland, a contributor to Sports Illustrated, The Guardian, and the man behind The Blizzard (Click here for more and subscriptions), it's the one and only, Jonathan Wilson.

We'll hand you over now to Jonathan for his thoughts on SAFC's season, plus some thoughts on what we need to do this summer...

Player Of The Season?

Jonathan: Seb Larsson. For the first time in an awful long time (maybe ever) I actually get excited when we have a set-play near the box.

Young Player Of The Season?

Jonathan: James McClean. Direct, quick, exciting, still a bit raw, and his entrance against Blackburn turned the season.

Best Signing Of The Season?

Jonathan: Seb Larsson - for the reasons outlined above - and a free transfer as well...

Most Disappointing Player Of The Season?

Jonathan: Asamoah Gyan. You think back to the 3-0 win at Chelsea last season and how well Sunderland played - that was what led me to think we could cope without Bent - and then we end up losing not only Onuoha and Welbeck, but also Gyan. It's disappointing beyond Sunderland as well - he's too good to be wasting his time at Al-Ain; a great talent seemingly more concerned about the cash and ease of life than making the most of that talent.

Goal Of The Season?

Jonathan: For once, a whole host of candidates. But I'd say the David Vaughan equaliser against Blackburn - not just because he belted it incredibly hard, but because it shifted the momentum of that game and the season.

Game Of The Season?

Jonathan: Manchester City at home. Great defensive resolve and then, having spent the whole second half counting off the seconds, a great finish. And, although I wasn't there, sounded like a great atmosphere as well.

Who do you think Sunderland should be looking at buying this summer?

Jonathan: A centre-forward for sure - depending on the fee I'd be happy with Bendtner. A left-back - still not convinced by Kieran's defensive qualities. And a proper ball-playing central creator in the mould of Lorik Cana to play alongside Cattermole (and/ or Gardner/ Vaughan) so we have the option of 4-4-1-1 or 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.

There's also talk of a clearout. Is there a player you think might not be as safe as they'd consider themselves?

Jonathan: There've been so many changes in personnel I find it hard really to warm to many of the present side. There's none of them I would be particularly upset to see leave, although I'd be disappointed to lose Sessegnon or Larsson. At the minute it feels like a very samey squad - the issue is improving it piece by piece. So if a good offer comes in, take it and similarly if we see an undervalued player, grab him. Realistically, there's no point having three keepers as good as Mignolet, Gordon and Westwood, so maybe we should be looking to offload one of them to raise a bit of cash.

What was your personal highlight of the season?

Jonathan: Very occasionally you get moments where you're sure something will happen before it happens, when the world seems to stand still. When Ji Dong-won rounded Joe Hart, my first thought was that he was probably offside. But the fact the game went on suggested he either wasn't (he was) or the linesman had got it wrong. So I had that doubt being cleared up even as he beat Hart, but then he stumbled and you thought maybe he was going to fall over. But then finally he's there, three yards from an open goal, and the offside hasn't been given and he hasn't fallen over and you know he can't miss, that nobody could miss, and that there's no time left and that, even though he hadn't actually put it in yet, that we had to win the game. If you watch the replay, you can almost see the same thought going through the people behind the goal. One or two go up early, but most of them seem to refuse to believe it until he prods the ball over the line. Then pandemonium.

Do you think the improvement made under Martin O'Neill will continue into next season, and what should be the aim?

Jonathan: My worry is how many goals we scored in the early days under him that flew in from range. Those don't keep going in and, while it's in part down to confidence, it's also partly luck. After a dozen games or so we were scoring over 20% of our shots, which is crazy when the average is about 11-12% (Liverpool at the same stage were under 5%). So, was that the true version of the side, or was it the flat (welcomely flat; don't get me wrong - being able to relax for the last six weeks or so has been lovely) end to the season, or that great spell in January and February? I don't know. But this is only the second time since relegation in 1958 that we'll have spent six consecutive seasons in the top flight; let's make it seven, which would be the second longest run in our history (admittedly the first spanned 1890-1958, which is rather more impressive), and if we can challenge for seventh and possible Europa League football or a Cup, then so much the better. But upper mid-table would do.


Many thanks to Jonathan for answering our questions, and of course if you're not already a subscriber to The Blizzard, I suggest you CLICK HERE and do so right away. A superb read every time. Also follow Jonathan on Twitter for top footballing insight @JonaWils

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