Candidate #1 - Jermain Defoe: 34 Appearances, 18 Goals
When a team is in the situation we found ourselves in last season, you need more than talent to get you out of it. Skill and technique will certainly get you on the way to where you want to be, but you also need determination, heart and character. Jermain Defoe has all of these qualities in abundance, and that's why he's my player of the year.
Every time we looked done for this season, Jermain Defoe kept popping up and rescuing us. This season, the first great example of that was at home to Newcastle when Defoe replaced Ola Toivonen, due to the Swede picking up an injury in the first half. Not only did Defoe's mere presence give the crowd a much needed lift, after Newcastle's dazzling amount of corners, he started picking up the space just in front of Newcastle's back four and immediately caused the magpies problems. A clever ball through allowed him to set up a foul on Steven Fletcher, which saw Fabricio Coloccini sent off and the game was turned on it's head. Who could Sunderland thank for that? Jermain Defoe, he was a massive part of Sunderland winning that game, and he didn't even score.
Dick Advocaat had often spoke about how Defoe couldn't play in the lone striker role and Sam Allardyce took some convincing as well. Much to Defoe's credit though, he adapted his game to ensure he could still cause opposition defenders problems when up there on his own.
That's something you expect from a fresh, young player, not a 33 year old who has more time behind him, than he does in front of him. Defoe deserves so much credit for that, he could have easily just slumped onto the bench as he has nothing to prove now, but that hunger to succeed at the highest level just wouldn't allow him to do that. Sheer determination meant that Allardyce couldn't ignore Defoe, as he proved to be the one that had to lead Sunderland's attack.
In the second half of the season, Defoe didn't really do "consolation goals." No, he was all about being the man to bring the points home. A brace at home to Aston Villa and a hattrick away to Swansea saw The Lads get the new year off to a bright start, after a dreadful December. A last minute equaliser away to Liverpool gave us some much needed hope after some new January recruits had given supporters a confidence boost in the battle to beat the drop. Without that equaliser though, that confidence could have easily wilted but, just like Defoe himself, there was still plenty of life left in us yet.
Even when Big Sam thought Dame N'Doye would be a better option to lead the line than Defoe, away to Southampton, you didn't see his head drop. Instead, he came off the bench and scored, what should have been, the winner. No moody celebration either, it was pure jubilation from Defoe as he scored a goal that said "Look mate, I'm your best striker. You don't put me on the bench." It seemed like Sam got the message and Defoe started every game until the last day of the season. It was a good job that he did too, as he kept firing in goals in crucial games. Defoe kept up his knack for knacking the mags with the opening goal in the Tyne-Wear derby and he stabbed home the second goal in a 3-0 win, away to relegation rivals Norwich City.
It was the last two goals for Defoe that are the most symbolic of Sunderland's season though. A poor performance at the Britannia Stadium saw The Black Cats 1-0 down as the game went into stoppage time and with Newcastle winning at home to Crystal Palace, it was looking bleak for us. But then, Yann M'Vila plays the ball to Defoe and his quick turn results in him being brought down by Erik Pieters. Penalty. With only one minute left of added on time there is no one you'd trust more than Jermain Defoe, the man who always comes up big when it matters. Defoe buries the penalty and it gives us a lifeline ahead of a difficult game at home to Chelsea.
Securing a point to keep us in the fight wasn't enough for Jermain Defoe, he had to score the goal that put us back on top. That winner against Chelsea, I don't think I'll ever come down from that moment. Yet again, Defoe moved himself to tears as the emotion of such an important goal poured out from him and from the supporters. It's hard to feel a connection with a player in the modern day but you get that feeling with Defoe. Not just his goals, that's what strikers do, but his reaction to them - the way he worked desperately hard last season and dragged us out of the relegation zone. He's everything you want from a player, and thank god he's ours. This season alone will probably see him remembered more fondly on Wearside than at any of his other former clubs. That alone proves that he is our player of the year for 2015/16.
Stayed tuned for the rest of this week as we bring you the rest of our Player Of The Season candidates.