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Roker Report Meets.... Gary Bennett

Gary Bennett is a Sunderland legend, of which there is no doubt, and his contributions as a player will never be forgotten by the fans, especially not since Gary released his scrapbook, 'The Black Cat', back in 2011 - if you haven't read it or bought it already, why not? It's bloody brilliant.

Hi Gary - I've heard people comparing Lamine Kone and his playing style to the way you were as a Sunderland defender. What do you think of what you've seen of Lamine thus far?

GB: I think Kone is the sort of player that Sunderland have needed for years - the sort of player we've been looking for in the heart of the defence. He's someone that has a presence - he's got a bit of pace and is a no nonsense defender.

We seen his quality in his first game with the way he broke out of defence with the ball and crossed the half way line - I'd imagine that will have brought back memories of when I used to play; I used to enjoy doing a similar thing!

Has it surprised you just how well the new players have slotted in to life at Sunderland?

GB: Yeah, it's been a surprise. It usually takes a few games for any player to settle in, especially players who have been playing in different leagues, and it's hard to pick up the tempo and understand what the league is all about. That said, it's probably helped that they (Kone, Khazri, Kirchhoff and N'Doye) have all come in around the same time as they've been able to push each other on.

When you look at the sides around us in the table - the likes of Newcastle, Norwich and Swansea - how do you rate our chances of survival, taking our recent form into consideration?

GB: Norwich seem to be in free-fall, as do West Brom. At this stage of the season it's all about winning games and getting points on board, so no matter how big your club is, if you don't start picking up wins you'll get relegated, it's really that simple.

Being in a relegation scrap is a something that we're used to now - we've got experience of being in that situation, so hopefully that combined with the players that have come in we'll have enough to get ourselves out of the mess we find ourselves in.

We've got West Ham this weekend - I watched them play Blackburn yesterday and they look fluid. Despite their injuries in attack, they don't seem to be struggling to create and score goals, and they are a side pushing for a top six finish. How do you rate our chances of going there and getting something?

GB: If we go there and take a draw then it will be a 'good point'. You look at West Ham and they're blowing hot and cold at present - I think it's somewhere that we can go and get a result.

It's important we're focused going into this game - we need to make sure we don't concede any early goals. Sam has already talked about keeping clean sheets and we need to do so sooner rather than later. Keep clean sheets, you don't lose games. Simple.

Jermain Defoe - should he go to Euro 2016 as part of Roy Hodgson's squad?

GB: Jermain Defoe will always score goals. You give him an opportunity and he'll put the ball in the back of the net. Do they take him? Hmm. They'll be looking perhaps at younger players in that position - the likes of Harry Kane, Rooney and Vardy are all nailed on to go. Welbeck and Sturridge are more likely to be given that opportunity, unfortunately.

Something frequently discussed amongst Sunderland fans is regarding who should be playing at right back. Billy Jones hasn't had the best of times recently and he only found himself out of the side against Manchester United due to injury. That said, it was a chance for DeAndre Yedlin to come in and he played really well. Going forward, who is first choice - Yedlin or Jones?

GB: I think alot of people looked at Yedlin in the past and accepted that he wasn't very good defensively but you've got to say that he did an excellent job in the Manchester United game there against Anthony Martial, and kept him quiet. Jones isn't playing well and is injured - it's a huge opportunity for Yedlin and, for me, he's first choice.

Just yesterday I came across the 1989/1990 season review 'documentary' on Youtube, something you were involved in. It was a bizarre set of circumstances that led to us being promoted that season - what can you remember about it?

GB: We ended that season with a tremendous run and finished sixth in the league which enabled us to play - and win - Newcastle in the play-off semi final, eventually leading to a final at Wembley against Swindon.

Leading up to the game there were rumours regarding Swindon and under-the-table payments in the public domain, and the possibility of them being relegated, but we were told by the FA, 'you've already come this far, you might as well go all the way and play the final and hopefully if all ends well'. If we had of won the game then maybe the relegation of Swindon might not have happened. It was great for us because we knew no matter what happened we were on to a winner.

It would have been nice to have won that day anyways.

When you look back at your time as Sunderland captain, what memory gives you the most pleasure?

GB: I think leading the team out first and foremost is a great honour. To be made skipper it shows how highly you are respected and regarded.

I had the opportunity to lead out the team at Wembley - that to me was the greatest milestone of my career. Not just being the captain, but being a black captain at Wembley. It was a great honour - captaining the team is something that can never be taken away from me.

We run a feature on our site called 'My First Game' in which we ask readers to send us their memories of their first ever Sunderland match. What are your memories of your first game as a Sunderland player?

GB: It was a massive occasion for me because I was being given the opportunity to play top level football. I was given my debut in the first home game of the season against Southampton - all my thoughts leading up to the day were me hoping I'd be starting! There were four of us making our debuts that day. To get off to the start we did, topped off with me scoring in my first game for the club - it was the icing on the cake.

We won the game 3-1 and starting in that way helped me to settle in to life fairly quickly.

I'd played at Roker Park a few years earlier for Manchester City in the youth cup, so it wasn't my first time there. Roker Park was a special ground, especially at night - night games at Roker Park were brilliant. People talk about the Roker Roar - under the floodlights, the supporters were loud and got right behind the team from start to finish which made all the difference to the way that we played. It was a special place and I was honoured to be allowed to play there.

Thanks again to Gary for speaking to us - you can hear him every Friday evening on BBC Newcastle Totalsport, whilst he also provides commentary alongside Nick Barnes for the station on any given match day. You can follow gary on twitter at @benno_4.

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