As part of our on going series in which we look at each position, and those who played it this season, it's time we turned our attentions to the left back spot.
A position which has been a problem for Sunderland for many a year, as it seems we haven't had an adequate player in the position since perhaps Mickey Gray. Kieran Richardson showed this season that he could come close to filling the boots of Gray, but other than that it's been a bit of a problem.
But while we wait for any potential signing or what have you, lets look more statistically at those who played the role during the 2011/12 season...
So the contenders; Kieran Richardson played the most games at left back this season with 19 games in the position, followed by Phil Bardsley at 10, Jack Colback with 5, loanee Wayne Bridge with 3 and John O'Shea, perhaps surprisingly given we thought he might play there preseason, with only 1 game there.
We'll start on the defensive front, as despite the full back position becoming more and more prominent on an attacking front, it's still the main job of a defender to not allow people to get past them.
When it comes to making tackles, Richardson leads, but it's a bit of an unjust lead with 28 tackles made. Phil Bardsley is only narrowly behind on 25, and played around half the games Richardson did. Bardsley making 2.5 per game compared to Richardson's 1.5 per game.
Perhaps the most surprising element of this is Jack Colback, where left back isn't his first position, made 10 in his 5 games, and if he'd played the same amount of games as Richardson would have made more than the former Manchester United man. Wayne Bridge propped up the rear with only 1.3 per game, totaling 4.
Richardson also beat out Bardsley when it comes to making clearances with 55 in total (2.9 per game), but as above, this is a false economy as Bardsley averaged 3.5 per game, making a total of 35 for the season. Colback making 8 (1.5 per game), Wayne Bridge with 4 (1.3 per game), and O'Shea having to make 6 in his one game a the position against Manchester United.
You'd also have thought the likes of Bardsley and O'Shea, physically bigger lads, would come out tops in aerial duels, but this isn't the case. Richardson won 11 he contested, with Bardsley 5 and O'Shea with none at all. Wayne Bridge won 2, and Colback the winner of only one duel.
With both our former United fullbacks leading the pack, you can start and see the differences in their play. Richardson has allowed players past him slightly more than Bardsley (0.6 times per game versus 0.4 times per game), while Bardsley also comes out on top with blocked shots (0.6 per game against 0.4), however while Bardsley is doing better on tackles, blocks and so forth, this is pretty much it for him. So we can safely say as far as a traditional fullback goes, Bardsley is tops.
Richardson however intercepts the ball more often than Bardsley, with 36 at the left back position, and Bardsley only 18 times. An interception is often more useful in turning defence into attack, another role in which Richardson also excels.
Obviously we can move straight past the assists column, as nobody made an assist directly from left back this season, and into goals it's not hugely greater where Richardson leads with 2 from the position, Bardsley 1 and the rest nothing.
Richardson made more passes than anyone else at the position with 589, which the likes of Bardsley can't even compete with when his games are doubled up to match Rico as he only made 84 in his 10 games at the position. Jack Colback, as you might have expected given he's a natural midfielder, came second with 180 in 5 games there. Wayne Bridge added 119, and O'Shea 34.
Colback topped when it came to pass completion with 83.5%, pushing Richardson into second with 75% while the rest languished in the lower 70's - O'Shea 72.6%, Bardsley 71.9% and finally Bridge 71.7% completion.
We end with crossing, as we're all fairly aware, fullbacks are a potent weapon when it comes to attacking. Richardson here blows everyone else out the water with 15 accurate crosses, three times that of Bardsley who only managed 5. Colback and Bridge both only managed to throw 1 each into the mixer with O'Shea a big fat 0 for the season.
When you look at the top players in the league at left back, the likes of Patrice Evra, Leighton Baines, Ashley Cole and such, they're all noted for they're ability to bring something to the team on an attacking front, as well as being alright defensively.
Bardsley is still our best defensive left back, but Richardson isn't a million miles behind, and offers much more going forward. The only problem is if we lose Richardson this summer as many expect with Everton and Fulham supposedly waiting in the wings to take him off us. Options elsewhere aren't overly great away from Blackburn Rovers' Martin Olsson, who we've not been linked with at all.
Overall though for the season though, Richardson takes our title as the top left back, by a sniff. Bardsley provides able cover, but isn't perhaps the Dani Alves he likes to think he is, but is certainly an assured defender.
Hopefully Richardson sticks around, and improves further defensively next season to become a complete full back, as he certainly has the potential, even this late in his career.