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Roker Report Writers Season Review: 2015/2016 - Part Two

Six writers, six questions - the Roker Report team assess the highs and lows of the 2015/2016 campaign. You can read part one from yesterday here. Today, we have the thoughts of @SAFCSource, @CalMackay90 and @HawayTheJames.

Gareth Copley/Getty Images

What Was Your Favourite Game This Season?

Andy: There are not a lot of choices for my favourite game of the season but three stand out - the 3-0 win at Norwich, the 3-2 win against Chelsea and the 3-0 home win over Everton. I won't include the 3-0 home win over Newcastle United, as they are routine as this point.

As important as the two games and results against Norwich and Everton were, the win over Chelsea can only be the correct answer to this question. With twenty-five minutes to go, we were 2-1 down on course for a hugely anxious end to the season. Chelsea were on top and we were thankful for Vito Mannone for only being one goal down.

In the past we'd have been dead and buried. That goal on the stroke of half-time, cancelling out Wahbi Khazri's wonder-strike, would have completely killed us off. That would have been 'typical Sunderland' but as the season came to a close, we saw less and less of 'typical Sunderland', we started showing signs that that moniker is becoming a thing of the past. We fought for every ball, we chased down every single member of the opposition and every fan and player gave absolutely everything to the cause. First Fabio Borini grabbed the equaliser and then, with the fans roaring the team on, DeAndre Yedlin broke down the right and found Jermain Defoe, who took one touch and smashed it into the back of the net.

Of all the great escapes we have had, of all the sporadic good results through the last few seasons and even of all the six in a row, this game was the one where it felt like the mood around the club was changing. Where we might be at the start of something, the players fought for each other and were reduced to tears by the passion of the crowd. This was not just my favourite game of the season, it is up there with my favourite games ever.

Callum: There are several contenders. The 3-0 win against Newcastle was a brilliant and hilarious result, but the performance did not merit the score. The Norwich game was a solid and efficient performance that showed quality and grit. The win against Everton was convincing and sealed our survival.

I’m going to go with the 3-2 home win against Chelsea. Resilience, togetherness, quality, desire, hard work, world class goals and coming from behind to win, with the fans being the 12th man. Everything a fantastic game should have.

James: This season has had a few contenders for my favourite game. The Everton game that ensured survival and the 2-1 win against Man Utd spring to mind but in the end there’s only one game I could pick for this. The 3-0 win against the Mags to secure Six-In-A-Row has to be my favourite game of the season. It wasn’t perhaps a vintage derby win but that result is a guarantee of bragging rights for years to come and there’s always something hugely sweet about consigning half the population of the North East to a week of misery. As an added bonus, making Judas Colback look like an utter fool is a fine example of karma at work.

What Was Your Least Favourite Game This Season?

Andy: We are spoilt for choice here but I am going to go for the very first game of the season. We didn't know how good Leicester City were going to be at that point. As far as we were concerned we were up against another fellow struggler from the season before but they had added a manager who was thought to be out of touch, while we had convinced the hero from the season before - Dick Advocaat - to return. Jeremain Lens looked as if he might light up the Premier League.

How wrong we were. 3-0 down after 25 minutes of the first game of the season. That is probably the quickest new season optimism has been extinguished.

Callum: Norwich at home at the beginning of the season. I’ve probably never seen a worse performance. It wasn’t just bad, it was an abject and gutless capitulation. We had the players to compete against a newly promoted side who at the time were in my mind as one of the possible relegation candidates.

But there was no organisation, no effort, no pressure on the ball and Norwich just toyed with us. I looked at my club and I saw no effort and after the game I was left with no hope and the familiar but agonising feeling of another season of struggle ahead. I will forgive players and staff for defeats and relegations if I can see that they’ve tried their best, but I couldn’t forgive that performance. Not the worst scoreline this season, but the worst performance by far.

James: The 6-2 defeat against Everton in November. After the appointment of Dick Advocaat and a raft of seemingly decent summer signings I was filled with hope for the season ahead.

Admittedly, by that point we had lost a number of tough games but another heavy defeat in the vein of Southampton and Aston Villa in past seasons cast a grey cloud over the season for me. Yet again, it looked like it’d be a season of struggle and so it proved to be. Just for once it would be nice to go through a season without getting absolutely annihilated by some mediocre Premier League team.

Who Is Your Player Of The Year?

Andy: Surprisingly, for a season that was so poor for so long, we have quite a few candidates for this. All of whom are part of the unchanged XI from the end of season run in. Yann M'Vila was superb in the first half of the season, form he regained for the run in. Jan Kirchhoff, Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Kone came in during the January transfer window and were absolutely brilliant, with all three revitalising the entire squad. Vito Mannone rediscovered his best form when it was most needed, DeAndre Yedlin and Patrick van Aanholt both improved defensively and gave much needed width going forward, Lee Cattermole led by example and Fabio Borini popped up with important goals and covered every blade of grass but there can only be one winner.

My player of the year is Jermain Defoe. He scored important goal after important goal, he started the season out of position on the left wing (where he still scored five goals in four games) and gave his all, he belied all his critics and proved he can lead the line on his own, despite his age and size. All of this and we got him in a straight swap for Jozy Altidore. I don't know how we managed to swing that but it has to be one of the best bits of transfer business ever done by any club.

Callum: I’m going for Lamine Kone. I genuinely believe his signing has been the difference between relegation and survival this season, improving our defensive record and providing the platform for Defoe’s goals to earn points. Obviously it’s easy to make the reverse argument and say that without Defoe’s goals, Koné’s performances wouldn’t have counted for much. And while that is perhaps true, I am passionate about the importance of the defensive side of football. Though goals are the most obvious and popular basis on which to judge an individual award, I just love watching Koné defend.

He’s strong, quick, athletic, good in the air, but he has an excellent footballing brain too. Football is a game of opinions and while I wish I could choose Defoe, Kirchhoff and M’Vila too, as the movie Highlander taught us, there can be only one. And it’s Lamine Koné for me.

James: As much as Jermain Defoe probably deserves this, I’d have to give this one to Lamine Kone. The giant Ivorian has been an absolute rock in central defence since arriving in January and besides Defoe’s goals, his presence in defence has probably been the catalyst for our survival. For years we’ve lacked a real monster of a central defender and finally it looks like we’ve got one.

The video of Yaya Toure trying to run through Kone and getting knocked on his arse is probably the video highlight of the season in my books, both for the immense physicality on display and the comedy value of seeing Toure trying to exert physical superiority on somebody his own size. If English were Kone’s first language I have no doubt he’d be next in line to become club captain but as it stands he’ll probably have to settle for being the lynchpin of our defence and a cult hero in the mould of Gary Bennett. Now he just needs to lamp one of the more dislikeable Premier League strikers.

Which Player Would You Say Has Been Our Most Disappointing This Season?

Andy: Jeremain Lens. The lad has so much talent, that sublime chip against West Ham showed just how much of talented a player he is but then in the same game he got himself stupidly sent off after being booked twice. He may have struggled with the pace of the Premier League in his first season in England but he never looked like he was putting the effort in to adapt, which was never going to endear him to Sam Allardyce.

Callum: Jeremain Lens. When he signed we all wondered whether he was what we needed, but when I saw his first interview I was impressed by how articulate and quietly determined he was. He repeatedly said he was a winner and I thought his mentality, as well as his quality, might instil something different and valuable in the team.

There’s no doubting his ability and on occasion he has shown excellent quality, but he should have been key to our survival this season and he wasn’t. I was desperate for him to succeed and expected more from him than I did from the other disappointments this season, such as Jones, Rodwell, Toivonen or Coates. For those reasons, I have to go for Lens as the most disappointing, even though he wasn’t the worst player by far.

James: I’ll have to give this one to the invisible man Adam Matthews. As a keen follower of Scottish football I had high hopes when the young right-back was signed from Celtic as he had been a consistent and impressive performer for them, both in domestic and in European football. I was hoping he might provide the kind of defensive stability married with attacking flair that we so desperately needed from our fullbacks but he barely made any appearances and looks like he might be on his way out of the door. A great shame because on paper he could have brought some extremely valuable options in defence for Sunderland.

What Was Your Favourite Goal Scored By A Sunderland Player This Season?

Andy: Lamine Kone's first against Everton. Not only was it a goal that allowed us to sigh a breath of relief after a tense few months but it was such an emphatic finish by a player that we have all taken to heart. What a way to clinch safety, a cult hero breaking the net with an absolute thunderbolt!

Callum: Jermain Defoe’s winner against Chelsea is my favourite goal. Khazri’s volley against Chelsea was a piece of technical perfection and was certainly more difficult and visually stunning than Defoe’s. For me though, a goal is not just about how it looks or how technical or complex it is. When choosing a favourite goal, one aspect of the decision has to be how it felt when it happened and what it meant. Football is, after all, an emotional game that appeals to the most irrational and passionate parts of us. It doesn’t make sense to judge a goal solely on how it looked or how difficult it was to execute.

Defoe’s goal was massive for our season, completing the comeback, sending the fans crazy and shaking the foundations of the stadium, but it was also a quality goal. If you wanted to capture Defoe’s season in one goal then this was it. Find space in the box, great first touch, goal. A quality finish from a true goalscorer, securing all three points for us and placing our survival in our hands. What a moment. What a goal.

James: How could this go to anything other than Wahbi Khazri’s volley against Chelsea? The technique, the skill and the sheer arrogance to attempt such an outlandish shot were nothing short of phenomenal. We knew Khazri was capable of moments of magic when he arrived on Wearside but this was one of the most stunning pieces of skill I think I’ve ever seen from a Sunderland player. It was at least the equal of Defoe’s wonder-volley against Newcastle last season and that goal reduced grown men to speechless lumps.

It was an absolutely otherworldly goal and well-deserving of anyone’s vote for our goal of the year.

Who Has Been Our Most Improved Player This Season?

Andy: DeAndre Yedlin. This is a player who was substituted in the first twenty minutes in the home defeat to Watford, such was the extent of his struggles in the first half of the season. There was talk in January of the American returning to parent club Tottenham. Thankfully that never happened and once he replaced Billy Jones in the side after, he never looked back. He gave us a threat going forward but the defensive side of his game came on leaps and bounds during the run in.

Callum: Patrick Van Aanholt has improved massively since his nightmare start to the season and deserves so much credit for that. DeAndre Yedlin has also secured his place and worked hard to become defensively sound.

I have difficulty looking past Kaboul though. I will hold my hands up and say I didn’t want him at Sunderland and I thought I’d been proved right by February. But his performances in the closing weeks of the season have been key to our survival, particularly against Everton. It truly is remarkable when you contrast the last eight games with his performances earlier in the season.

Against Leicester and Bournemouth he was turned inside out and looked amateurish, while his lengthy and frequent absences through injury left us short and was indirectly responsible for the deployment of Billy Jones at centre back. It looked like a disastrous £3m signing just a few months ago and while he still has a long way to go to prove his fitness and long term reliability, credit must go to Big Sam for his astute and brilliant awareness of sports science to keep the squad fit and largely injury free. Kaboul still had to seize that opportunity and he did so brilliantly. For that reason, Younes Kaboul is the most improved player for me.

James: This one has to go to half-man, half-machine Jan Kirchhoff. After probably the most disastrous Sunderland debut in recent history, Big Jan went on to establish himself as a crucial part of a much-improved Sunderland midfield towards the end of the season. Displaying the kind of classy, ball-playing style that clearly convinced Bayern Munich to take a punt on him, Kirchhoff was an utterly different player when deployed in a defensive midfield role and signing him to a longer term contract must surely be one of the transfer priorities for the summer window.

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