What do you lads make of Darron Gibson? Personally I can't stand the bloke.
That’s a direct quote of mine, taken from the episode of the Roker Rapport Podcast that we recorded just last week.
I'll admit, the Republic of Ireland international has improved markedly in recent weeks - as evidenced in his showing in Saturday’s victory over Fulham. To be honest, the Irishman’s recent showings have made my remark look somewhat flippant, perhaps even exaggerated. I hold my hands up - I might (might) have called that one wrong. But football is a funny old business, isn't it?
Luke Ball, who was a guest on our show last week, made the point that Gibson possesses obvious quality in terms of vision and passing, but sometimes has to offer us more - especially when playing in the centre of the park.
And the Derry-born midfielder did just that at the weekend, turning in an assured, dominant ninety minute performance for probably the first time since he arrived on Wearside.
Gibson looked a lot busier than he normally does, an improvement that has undoubtedly coincided with the arrival of our new manager. The 30-year-old ran the hard miles but also used his vision to pick out clever, important passes - he even had a decent strike from range which was saved by Marcus Bettinelli in the Fulham goal. It was an all-round impressive performance from a man who has bore the brunt of fans’ frustrations.
The Irishman’s case study shows how good a man-manager Chris Coleman really is. Let's face it, Gibson probably isn't the most popular character in the dressing room given his drunken tirade and his previous lacklustre performances which certainly didn't endear him to fans - leaving Gibson in a state of footballing limbo.
I threw the curious case of Darron Gibson to some of my Roker Report peers in order to gauge whether Gibson has done enough to alter opinions recently:
Tom Atkinson: He’s played well for a couple of games, but need to see him keep this up for several weeks to be totally impressed.
Connor Bromley: Gibson fits into a system. He clearly lacks legs but he is a decent ball player and is reasonably solid defensively.
James Nickels: Coleman is playing to the strengths of his players - Gibson included. I’ve said for ages that all we needed was a competent manager who utilised a system suited to our players and we'd do well.
Gav: We need to be realistic with Gibson and careful not to wax lyrical about him. Coleman hasn't overhyped his players too much, reminding them that they have to continue working hard - Gibson especially must do this.
So, it's a well done for recent improvements, but the jury is still most definitely out long-term.
I genuinely hope that Gibson has turned a corner, particularly as we need a ball player in our midfield that can compliment the youthful energy of players like Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman, but there's no doubting he needs to perform to the levels he reached against Burton, Wolves and Fulham more regularly - especially given his experience and likely over-inflated wage packet.
Irregardless, Gibson now has a huge opportunity to cement his place in Chris Coleman’s side. With players like Lee Cattermole, Paddy McNair and Didier Ndong returning back from injury and suspension, there is now healthy competition within Sunderland’s squad for a position which had previously looked arguably our weakest.
With an upturn in fortunes comes momentum, something that the former Manchester United man has sorely lacked since first joining up with Sunderland last January.
Time will tell whether or not he can sustain the form which now has him positioned as arguably Chris Coleman’s most important midfielder, but this really is his spot to lose.