Well, what a funny old season this has been. It seems a long time since we were suffering the tactic-less sham that we had become under Steve Bruce, but what looked like a sterling season in the making at one point has petered out to become ultimately quite disappointing. However, when you think where we were at one stage, the whole ordeal has to go down as a success, and with Martin O'Neill in charge, we can be sure that next term will be more fun to watch than this one has been. Hopefully, with a few new additions, we can really push on next season, in terms of the league and cup competitions. But, for now, let's look back on this one, shall we?
Player Of The Season?
Dan: In my eyes, this is a two-horse race. While Jack Colback has been superb in the centre of the park, showing a composure above his years on every showing, there can only be one player of the year, and that is Stephane Sessegnon. The little Benin international has been in superb form this term, often being our most creative player by a considerable distance. In terms of skill, he's in a different league to the rest of our squad, and you only have to look at the way that he embarrassed Paddy Kenny against QPR, or his goal against Swansea at home to see just what he can offer. Fingers crossed, we can keep hold of the little magician, and build our team around him, then the future is bright.
Young Player Of The Season?
Dan: As I just mentioned, if it wasn't for Sess', then Jack Colback would have got my vote for the big award. Thankfully then, his age means that I can put him forward for this award. Although James McClean has made an unbelievable impact since his introduction into the team (cheers for signing him Brucey, but why didn't you just give him a chance?) - Colback has been consistently superb this term. Again, as I mentioned, the minute ginger has a head on his shoulders that belies both his age and experience, and I genuinely think he can go on to be one of our most important players. You only have to look at our form when he was out of the team earlier in the season to see just how crucial he has become. People make comparisons between him and Henderson, which is unfortunately inevitable, but I am not alone in thinking that the better player of the two is still at Sunderland. Encouragingly, O'Neill sees his future in midfield, rather than at left back. Expect Jack Colback to be at the centre of our plans for years to come.
Best Signing Of The Season?
Dan: There are a few choices for this one, but I couldn't possibly be seen to go along with what ‘Roker Report' icon Michael Graham has been preaching, so I'm going to ignore the considerable argument for John O'Shea, and plump for Sebastian Larsson. Although it has tailed off with our good form as the season has come to its conclusion, the sheer novelty of having a player who is dangerous from set pieces, both corners and free kicks in anywhere up to 35 yards from goal, he has been invaluable. When you add that he came in on a free transfer, Larsson has been superb.
Most Disappointing Player Of The Season?
Dan: I feel bad here, as we obviously bought him for his long-term potential, but it's tricky to look past Connor Wickham for this category. Coming in with a growing reputation, and signed for rather a lot of money, Wickham hasn't made the impact that any of us had hoped. It looks like he has been struggling with injury for the majority of the term, and hopefully with a full pre-season behind him he can come back stronger next term. Being a big lad up top, he could fit in well to a Martin O'Neill system, and I certainly hope that he won't be sent out on loan next season.
Goal Of The Season?
Dan: Dear me, now this is a tough one. Never before have I seen a team score so many amazing goals in one season. I'm going to stick with the choice that I made on the podcast, and vote for Fraizer Campbell's stunning volley against Norwich. The technique on show was magnificent, as he brought the ball down and unleashed it, without the ball touching the floor in between. With such a small target to aim for, it was a perfect strike, and in fairness, it had to be to beat some of the other goals that we've scored this term.
Game Of The Season?
Dan: If I went with what I said on the podcast for the last question, I'm going to have to change my mind for this one. Although the Arsenal cup replay was a splendid performance, and for one night only, the magic of the cup really did return to the town, beating Manchester City at home is probably our biggest achievement. It shouldn't be overlooked that the visitors were on fire at that stage of the season, and everyone had written us off before kick off. However, a heroic performance was topped off when Ji slotted in the winner and got a hell of a kiss for his efforts. The way that Seb Larsson was bent double on the halfway line in an attempt to get forward summed us up that day. Superb.
Who do you think Sunderland should be looking at buying this summer?
Dan: A regular goalscorer has got to be top of the wishlist, but that's easier said than done. I doubt I'll be the only one to mention Stephen Fletcher as an option, as he's a player who has scored goals in teams that have been relegated. Hopefully, with Sess and James McClean feeding him, he could be a real hit for us.
Away from the striker situation, I'm going to be looking at a couple of the other clubs that I follow.
Barnsley's Jacob Butterfield is in demand, with both the Mags and Reading seemingly showing interest in him. He's a creative, attacking midfielder, who has scored and created a lot of goals for the Tykes this season. With his contact having run down, any transfer would certainly not cost the world.
There are also a number of players plying their trade at Toulouse in Ligue 1 that I'd be looking at. Central midfielder Etienne Capoue is almost like an NFL quarter-back in the way that he dictates games, and he could be a real coup for us. Well, he'd actually be a real coup for any Premier League team.
There's also talk of a clearout. Is there a player you think might not be as safe as they'd consider themselves?
Dan: Alongside the obvious ones, such as George McCartney (I think we still have him??) and Craig Gordon, I wouldn't be surprised to see Titus Bramble to be shown the door after his repeated indiscretions and the somewhat surprising rise of Matt Kilgallon. On top of that, I wouldn't be overly disappointed if Craig Gardner was still homesick and we could get a decent fee for him.
What was your personal highlight of the season?
Dan: Well, this one should be different to everyone else's. The first game of this season was something that I was looking forward to for a long while. My friend had just moved into a new apartment with a pool, the sun was shining down here in the south of France, and we had boxes of beer, whiskey and cigars. It was a great way to watch football, and the cheer that I and my Manchester United-supporting let out when Seb Larsson scored his screamer got us some funny looks for the rest of the day. Roll on the start of next season.
Do you think the improvement made under Martin O'Neill will continue into next season, and what should be the aim?
Dan: Progression would be my only aim. Perhaps, with the right signings, a top seven spot shouldn't necessarily be out of reach. The cups, however, can be our real source of glory next term. I expect not just another run in the FA Cup, but the League Cup too. And winning either of them would make me more than happy.