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Molly Burke: Sunderland’s best XI of the last five seasons

It's safe to say being a Sunderland fan hasn't been too enjoyable of late, so in an attempt to lift our spirits I have decided on my best XI of the last five seasons up until 2016/17.

Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Formation: (4-1-2-1-2)

Jordan Pickford (GK)

It goes without saying that Jordan Pickford is the best keeper we have had in a very long time at Sunderland, and it's an incredible shame that we were only able to be blessed with his presence in between the sticks for a relatively short amount of time.

Pickford began last season as second fiddle to Vito Mannone, but once the Italian picked up a serious arm injury, Pickford was presented with his golden opportunity to shine for his boyhood club.

Sunderland v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

His first start of the season came in a 1-1 draw against Southampton, a game which saw Pickford make numerous spectacular saves, but five minutes from full time an error from the 23-year-old handed the Saints an equaliser.

However, Pickford didn't allow this mistake to bother him and went on to become one of our key players in such a disastrous season, finding himself a place on the PFA Young Player of the Year award shortlist - along with the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Romelu Lukaku.

Phil Bardsley (RB)

Phil Bardsley's life at Sunderland was very much up and down. He made 174 appearances for us and found himself a comfortable spot in the starting XI for the majority of his time here.

However, at the end of the 2012/13 season Bardsley was pictured in a casino with fellow-Black Cat Matt Kilgallon, which angered then-boss Di Canio who insisted he would never play the pair again.

In August that year Bardsley went on to carelessly add fuel to the fire by mocking the club's opening day defeat to Fulham - which unsurprisingly saw him suspended by the club.

Tottenham Hotspur v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

Di Canio's sacking and an apology from the player saw Bardsley brought back into the team, and the full-back was a key figure that season, scoring the goal which saw Sunderland beat Manchester United to progress through to the League Cup Final on penalties - something all Sunderland fans will never forget.

It was a brilliant send off for Bardsley, and while he may not have been an exceptional player, he appears to be the best of the bunch.

John O'Shea (CB)

In my opinion, John O'Shea has never really received the praise he deserves since he signed for the club way back in 2011. Though he’s now at the end of his career, his experience and passion has helped us when we have been at our worst, and his impressive performance against Preston last weekend showed that he can still be a solid part of our defence, even in his twilight years as a player.

Hull City v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Though he’s not an exciting name, and he may be a lot older than other players, when O’Shea doesn’t play we often lack grit and determination - and the team tends to suffer as a result.

O'Shea struggled towards the end of our stay in the Premier League, but we can't forget his importance over the past few years - being one of only a few that never gave up on us when at our lowest ebb.

Younes Kaboul (CB)

Whilst Younes Kaboul was only in the North East for a full year it would be fair to say that he is easily one of the best defenders we have had in the Premier League era.

Under Sam Allardyce, Kaboul and Lamine Kone formed a partnership that saw our defence improve instantaneously. The former Spurs captain was like a brick wall, and you always knew you could relax with him at the back.

Sunderland v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images

I will always remember him for his wonderful cross in for the third goal in our latest 3-0 hammering of Newcastle. The Frenchman sprinted up the left wing and pinged a lovely ball into the feet of Steven Fletcher, who volleyed it home to put us well clear of our nearest and dearest rivals. Spectacular.

Kaboul last game for us came against Everton, where he pulled off a man of the match performance as we secured our Premier League survival, leaving the centre-half in tears as he drank in the adulation of the Sunderland supporters.

His departure to Watford that summer was heartbreaking, particularly as we sold him for buttons and failed to adequately replace him.

Marcos Alonso (LB)

Despite only arriving on loan for half a season, Marcos Alonso is one of my favourite Sunderland players within our last five campaigns.

Other than a stint with Bolton Wanderers, I didn't know too much about Alonso when Gustavo Poyet snapped him up in the January transfer window.

The left-back was part of the side that shocked everyone in reaching the League Cup Final; making his debut in the first leg of the semis against Manchester United, where he was handed the Man of the Match award by Sky Sports.

Manchester United v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Alonso became key in our battle to avoid the drop, and whilst he may not have been the best defensively, he more than made up for it in his attacking play - often impressing up the left wing.

The Spaniard made sure we were aware of his love for the club even after he left, often showing his support for us on social media.

Alonso is now a Premier League champion with Chelsea, and it does make you wonder what could have been if we tried to sign him permanently.

Yann M'Vila (CDM)

When Dick Advocaat brought in Yann M'Vila on a season-long loan and he was sent off in his first game for the under-21s for head butting an opposing player, we all knew that we had made an exciting addition to the squad.

However, I don't think anyone quite expected the impact M'Vila would have. He regularly impressed the fans with his stand-out performances and was solid in the defensive midfield role throughout his loan spell.

Sunderland v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The entire fanbase was left heartbroken when the midfielder expressed his desire to make his stay in England permanent but the club turned him down - causing even more anger and hatred towards Ellis Short and the powers that be.

Lee Cattermole (CM)

Lee Cattermole has always been very underrated by everyone bar Sunderland fans. He is known as a ‘dirty’ player - which might have been true early on in his career - but Catts has played a significant role in our midfield over the years.

His desire to win the ball, as well as his grit and determination, is what caused him to become a fan's favourite; there are very few games where you won't hear his name ringing around the stands.

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

He may be one of those struggling at the moment, but when he's at his best Catts is extremely reliable in the middle of the park - winning tackles left, right and centre and spraying balls out to either wing.

And of course who can forget the moment he left Jack Colback in a heap in one of our many derby wins? No matter what happens, it will be a sad day when Lee Barry Cattermole eventually departs these shores for pastures new.

Ki Sung-Yeung (CM)

It is easy to forget about Ki, but the South Korean appeared to be in his prime during his time on loan here from Swansea City and was another of the loanees to impress that season.

While Ki's best trait was his passing, perhaps his most important moments in a Sunderland shirt came via finding the back of the net.

The midfielder's first goal for the club was the winner in the dying minutes of the League Cup quarter-final against Chelsea which helped us progress to the final at Wembley.

Sunderland v Everton - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

And it wasn't long before Ki grabbed his second for the club, securing the three points for us in a narrow 1-0 away win over Everton on Boxing Day.

Ki played his part in helping us avoid relegation that season, but went on to pick up an injury which saw his Sunderland career come to an unfortunate end in April.

Stephane Sessegnon (CAM)

Stephane Sessegnon provided an abundance of creativity and flair that we have totally lacked since his departure, scoring 17 goals in 87 appearances during his time at Sunderland.

Aston Villa v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

In Sessegnon's second year at the club he was named player of the season, and was later rewarded with a new contract that would see him stay on until 2015.

However, only a year later Paolo Di Canio wielded his axe and sold the midfielder to West Brom - a departure that has perhaps haunted us ever since.

Fabio Borini (ST)

Yes, Fabio Borini's second stint at Sunderland was absolutely horrific. If I was to base this selection on his permanent move, he would be nowhere near this side. However, the Italian first arrived on Wearside on loan and was a stand out figure for us during the 2013/14 season.

Borini's first goal in a Sunderland shirt was a very important strike, and one nobody will ever forget. The former Liverpool man was brought on as a substitute as we looked to claim all three points against Newcastle, and he did just that, scoring a late winner with a thunderbolt that sent the crowd into hysterics.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Following that, Borini scored a late equaliser against Chelsea in the League Cup quarter-final; a winning penalty against Manchester United in the semi final first leg and the winner in a 2-1 win away to Chelsea. So it was safe to say Borini scored some vital goals while on loan here.

He was later awarded with Sunderland's Young Player of the Year award. Borini's loan here was one full of excitement, passion and spirit. The Borini we all loved is the one going into this team, not the one that turned up a year later unmotivated and broken by his failures at Liverpool.

Jermain Defoe (ST)

As soon as Jermain Defoe scored that wonderful 22-yard volley against Newcastle with his left foot he wrote himself into Sunderland AFC history books, etching his name on the hearts of each and every supporter that was fortunate enough to watch him play for our club during his two year stay here on Wearside.

Defoe proved that age doesn't matter if you know where the net is as he claimed the title of top scorer in both of his full seasons at the club.

Hull City v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

It's no exaggeration when people say Defoe single-handedly kept us up with his goals, as the England international consistently scored despite being surrounded by a very poor team.

He wasn't with us as long as everyone would have liked, but Defoe was an inspiration on and off the pitch and will go down as a Sunderland legend.

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