Worst Team Performance: Sunderland 1-1 Norwich
Quite frankly, this could've very easily been won by 3 or 4 other terrible performances. Of course, the 6-1 defeat at Villa Park stands out, but as Dave Boyle rightly pointed out, this was mostly down to individual errors, and Sunderland were still in the game at half time. The 3-1 defeat at QPR also deserves a special mention, a performance so gutless and lacking in quality that many believe it the decisive moment in Martin O'Neill's managerial reign.
However the performance that takes the prize is the 1-1 draw with Norwich back in March. Despite a not-especially-good Canaries being reduced to 10 men for most of the game, Sunderland were toothless, and never looked liked getting a valuable win. Norwich found it much easier to carve the home side open, and had Grant Holt done better when through on goal, it could've very easily been even worse.
Worst Individual Performance: Carlos Cuellar vs Aston Villa
Again, there were a lot of names on the shortlist for this. Danny Graham has put in a handful of stinkers and Matt Skilgallon's performance away at Norwich also got a mention by Nick Holden, pointing to both his defending for Antony Pilkington's goal, and missing a chance to equalise with the goal gaping. Craig Gardner also got a mention by Dave Boyle for his 'headless chicken' performance on his return to Aston Villa.
However for sheer ineptitude, there could only really be one winner. Cuellar put in an absolute horrorshow at Villa Park, taken apart by the pace of the home side's frontline, and assuring that the Spaniard will spend the rest of his life waking up in cold sweats at 3 in the morning shouting the name 'Christian Benteke'.
Worst Player: James McClean
It's harsh to pick out one player for criticism in this disappointing season, but if one players has failed to live up to expectations it's James McClean. The Irishman has looked devoid of confidence as the season has gone on, no longer looking to take it down the wing and put a cross in. His inability to get into good crossing positions has shown in his stats: only 19 of his 128 balls this season have been accurate. The problem might even be worse for McClean. Nick Holden argues that he hasn't been able to add anything to his game this season, and that he may be a one-trick pony.
Special mentions go to Titus Bramble and Danny Graham, both of which have looked lumbering, overweight and unfit.
Worst Signing: Danny Graham
For every Julio Arca, there is a Nicolas Medina, and this season offered a lot of competition for the category of worst signing. James McFadden and Louis Saha both deserve mentions for their utter pointlessness. Saha looked sadly past it, while McFadden was as invisible on the pitch as he would be if he were standing in front of a white backdrop. The only good thing about McFadden's time at Sunderland was that it was brief. He arrived in September and was gone by January, perhaps only playing during these months to reduce to risk of him having to go out onto the pitch when it was sunny.
However the prize has to go to Danny Graham. Aside from a couple of hard-working performances against Everton and Newcastle, the £5 million signing has never even remotely looked like paying back his fee, and has failed to open his account for his new club. Simon Walsh put it best claiming Graham 'worryingly runs like a character in a 90's computer game and can't even kick the ball particularly hard let along accurately.'
Biggest Disappointment: Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill arrived at Sunderland to huge excitement and expectations, and he initially delivered, winning 7 of his first 10 games. Despite an end of the season dip, there was a still a huge amount of optimism, and with O'Neill starting to put together a squad that was his, there was a feeling that this would be the year the club would move forward. Alas, this was not to be the case.
O'Neill methods looked incredibly outdated. He was far too soft on the players and allowed them to train only three days a week, his tactics were overly negative, and results were poor. Despite finding a reasonable amount of form in a 4-3-3 formation, O'Neill changed to a 4-4-2 to shoe-horn Danny Graham into the team, and it would be this decision that would ultimately signal his death-knell. Sunderland's form deteriorated after this, and the Northern Irishman couldn't turn things around. Stephen Goldsmith also points to O'Neill's lack of adaptability, appearing to lack a clear Plan B during games.
Had the Northern Irishman not be replaced as manager, I'd probably be writing about Sunderland's relegation to the Championship in this article. It's hard to think of another manager who was so universally accepted upon his arrival, only to fall from grace so quickly.
The James McClean Award For Stupidity: Phil Bardsley
Our final award looks at the acts of sheer stupidity committed by Sunderland players both on and off the pitch. Such was the variety in our footballers acting like complete and utter 'pleb-bots', there wasn't a great deal of consensus for this prize. Craig Gardner deserves a mention for his two-footed tackle on Charlie Adam that got him sent off in the one of the most important matches of the season when his team were 1-0 down, James McClean for being absolutely rubbish at Twitter, and Titus Bramble for being the kind of man who tweets things like this
Then, right at the end of the season, Phil Bardsley blew the competition out of the water with a late entry of complete and utter fuckwittery. Now look: we've all gotten drunk and done something incredibly stupid. Maybe some of us have even gotten drunk and done something stupid then turned up to work the next morning as if nothing had ever happened, acting like we don't want to vomit into the face of the co-worker we dislike the most.
However, it would fair to say that we have different expectations of professional footballers, who need to stay at the peak of physical fitness. Bardsley staying up until the early hours to celebrate his team's survival, when he actually had very little to do with it, then turning up for training the next morning hungover, all while there was still one game of the season to go, is incredibly moronic. This is before we even get into the picture of himself covered in £50 pound notes, something that was in incredibly poor taste.
Then we have everything that came afterwards. The complaint to the PFA, as if Bardsley had somehow been wronged; his girlfriend and brother coming out on Twitter to have a go at Di Canio and Sunderland supporters. It was an incredibly unsavoury series of events, and because of it, I don't think anyone will be sad when Phil Bardsley leaves the club this summer.