With Sunderland’s largely miserable, forgettable ten year Premier League tenure over, now seems as good a time as any to pick a best eleven. Out of the misfits, journeyman and inept overachievers to grace the revolving door that is the Stadium of Light - here are 11 of the more competent, beloved Lads to put on the red and white shirt between 2007-2017.
Goalkeeper: Simon Mignolet
The Belgian shot stopper’s flaws that have been badly exposed at Anfield were present at Sunderland. However his inability to dominate his penalty area, or his wayward kicking, didn’t stop him becoming a crucial player in Sunderland’s fight against relegation in 2013. A series of jaw-dropping stops saw him elevated to fan favourite status. Without “Our Belgian Keeper”, Sunderland may have been demoted much sooner.
Honourable mentions: Jordan Pickford, Costel Pantilimon
Right back: Phil Bardsley
Despite constant attempts to replace and upgrade the former Manchester United full-back, Bardsley was one of the most consistent figures of Sunderland’s recent ten year run. His drive and aggression in all aspects of his game was often an asset for the Black Cats; however, Ill-discipline and poor decision making did occasionally cost the Scottish international both on and off the pitch.
His infuriating, rash, and poorly timed challenges often undermined his play while his immature falling out with Paolo Di Canio was another example of the former United man’s temper sometimes getting the better of him. For all his flaws, though, he was still an easy choice given the lack of alternatives.
Honourable mentions: Santiago Vergini, Deandre Yedlin
Centre back: John O’Shea
The ex-Manchester United man has stuck with Sunderland through the good times and the bad. Still with the club - despite coming to the end of a storied career - the aging skipper’s relationship and understanding with Wes brown was crucial during ‘The Great Escape’. He just edges out Kone and Brown based on longevity, consistency and leadership.
Honourable mentions: Lamine Kone, Wes Brown
Centre back: John Mensah
The most naturally gifted centre half to grace the Stadium of Light in recent seasons, Mensah’s tackling skill and general tenacity could have made him a legend on Wearside.
Sadly, his time in Red and White was dominated by injuries denying us the chance to see a quality defender operate at his peak, and towards the end of his stay he really struggled. The Ghanaian international found the Premier League an unforgiving home as he attempted to adapt to his diminishing athleticism.
Honourable mentions: Jonny Evans, Younes Kaboul
Left back: Danny Rose
Comfortably Sunderland’s best outfield player in his year here, the future England international offered, pace, confidence and directness to Martin O’Neill’s otherwise drab side. Admittedly his tendency to ball watch and switch off defensively cost us sometimes, but he was undoubtedly excellent overall in his stay here.
Honourable mentions: Marcos Alonso, Danny Collins
Defensive Midfield: Lee Cattermole
Sunderland’s long time midfield enforcer has overcome discipline issues and fitness problems to become a quality holding midfielder. He was integral to Sunderland’s unlikely ‘Great Escape’ and quietly excellent in that year’s league cup run.
A big loss for most of this season as we suffered relegation without much fight - hopefully ‘Catts’ will return to full fitness to lead Sunderland out of the Championship.
Honourable mentions: Lorik Cana, Jan Kirchhoff
Central midfield: Jordan Henderson
Unfairly derided and criticised towards the end of his rise in the North East. The local lad was Sunderland’s most important player in the one season out of ten we managed a top-half finish. His speed and athleticism meshed with an ability to link play through midfield made him indispensable at just 20 years old.
He did lack the power and aggression that has seen him become club captain for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool during his time representing his hometown club, and his form did also dip dramatically in the months prior to his departure. However, given his role in our one top-half finish in ten years he deserves his place in the XI.
Honourable mentions: Jack Colback, Craig Gardner
Central Midfield: Yann M’Vila
A touch of class. The Frenchman’s mix of physicality, composure and all-round footballing ability was badly missed this year. Among the several problems that affected Sunderland’s inability to build another escape from relegation, failure to re-sign M’Vila may have been the most significant. Alongside Lamine Kone, Jan Kirchhoff and Younes Kaboul he made up the spine which last season’s improvement and survival was built on.
Honourable mention: Sebastian Larsson, Ki Sung Yeung
Attacking midfield: Stéphane Sessègnon
Easily the most talented player to grace the Stadium of Light during our most recent stay in the top division. At his best the diminutive forward was a joy to watch, skillful with fantastic quick feet and raw pace - all he was missing was a killer instinct in front of goal.
The Benin attacker was the talisman when Sunderland briefly built momentum under O’Neill. Unfortunately he was a rare bright spark in an often uninspiring team.
Honourable mention: Steed Malbranque, Emanuele Giaccherini
Striker: Jermain Defoe
Embraced and enjoyed playing for Sunderland in a way you’d hope every player did. His goals allowed fans and players alike to maintain belief at times when relegation seemed inevitable.
Had he not swapped places with Jose Altidore, it might have been eight seasons only at the top for the Black Cats. His volley against Newcastle could arguably be considered the greatest Sunderland moment of the last ten years.
Honourable mention: Kenwyne Jones, Steven Fletcher
Striker: Darren Bent
For all Defoe’s consistent excellent on Wearside, Bent had an equally transformative effect on the club. His remarkable first year at the Stadium of Light had us looking up the table, believing a few good transfers might lead to European football. Ultimately, however, his time is tainted by his abrupt departure to Aston Villa.
Whatever his true motives for going, he left at a time when both he and the club had what felt like a special, mutually beneficial relationship. The unsavoury ending shouldn’t taint his 2009-2010 performance, when he simply couldn’t stop scoring.
Honourable mentions: Nicklas Bendtner, Djibril Cisse