It’s finally over. Done and dusted. The final nail has been hammered into the coffin.
Despite the fact that the writing has been on the wall for a good few months, it has nevertheless still been a gut-wrenching experience. I think we all knew there would be some testing days this season; some low points, but to have only won 6 times from 44 matches is nothing short of scandalous. The summer ahead is such a huge one for so many reasons, but that is a debate that we are sure to have another day.
I’ve spent the last week or so picking over the wreckage of our 2017/18 campaign. In amongst the anguish, the anger and overall embarrassment our relegation has caused, there are unbelievably some positives that we can take.
Much has been made around the fact that the club are still held their end of season awards night this week. Some supporters have said that it should have been cancelled and that nothing should have been dished out that constitutes an award to any of the playing squad for their performances this season.
I can see where people are coming from, I really can. However, I don’t necessarily agree with them.
Great night at the Player of the Year awards @SunderlandAFC. Congrats to Joel Asoro and John O’Shea, and good to see Duncan Watmore, look forward to his return from injury ⚪️ ⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2plgcLY2r0— Callum Bradfield (@CallumBradfield) April 25, 2018
If we are able to take anything positive from the last nine months on Wearside, it is that some of the current crop of younger players can indeed be become beacons of light as we set sail across more choppy seas to start next season in the third tier of English football.
Most of our more established players have massively under-performed this season. That is the kindest and nicest way I can put it.
The likes of Gibson, Rodwell and Cattermole to name but a few are the senior players responsible for where we find ourselves; at our lowest ebb for decades.
I include Rodwell in that despite making only three appearances this season. His situation has become a constant cloud over the club, and his refusal to move in January has infuriated everyone connected with Sunderland AFC. The guy hasn’t kicked a ball in anger since February after last playing 45 minutes for the U23s. He is as culpable for our demise as the rest of them.
And the fact that a 36 year old John O’Shea picked up the top gong speaks volumes really.
Most deserving award at 2nights player of the year award goes to George Forster a Sunderland Diamond. pic.twitter.com/d694SvMzPm— Dave from Seaham (@daveyreid69) April 25, 2018
Most of our senior players should be embarrassed at the sight of Joel Asoro, Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman working harder, tackling harder and running harder than they have done.
The bottom line is we still have far too many on the books who don’t care about the fortunes of this fantastic football club - it is as simple as that. Darron Gibson is many things, but he was absolutely on the money with his albeit drunken analysis of his team-mates after that Celtic debacle in August.
The awards night is ran every year and doesn’t solely concentrate on what goes on at first team level. The ladies team are recognised, as are special people like George Forster who ensures the club retains its everlasting greatness. The amounts of money these events raise for charity is sometimes overlooked too. It is so much more than just an event organised exclusively for the first team.
For me, to completely abandon the idea of an end of season ‘awards’ night would have done a huge disservice to some of the younger players that have effectively ended their very first season as professional footballers, playing for a massive club under huge pressure. They have been thrust into the limelight due to the abhorrent attitude of their senior counterparts, and I’d hate to have seen them penalised for that. For me, they deserve some sort of recognition.
If I was asked who I thought warrants the tag of Player of the Year after such a shambolic campaign, I’d have to admit that I’d be struggling. It is the only season in living memory where I can honestly say that. We can’t even warrant dishing out an award for quality because, quite simply, there hasn’t been anywhere near enough. Aiden McGeady is arguably the most talented player at the club, but he has been nowhere near consistent enough. This season I have learned why he has not carved out a long and successful career in the top flight of English football.
Paddy McNair has stepped up to the plate in recent weeks and Chris Coleman is certainly on the money when he says we are much better outfit with him in the team, and keeping hold of him in League One is vital. But, that said, he simply hasn’t played enough this season.
Lewis Grabban would have been an incredible choice too, despite 12 goals in his 18 starts here. George Honeyman is a huge favourite of Coleman. He will run all day, has a great attitude and his work rate is a huge plus; I thought that maybe he would be in the running.
But, the honest answer is I had no real idea who’d pick up any of the the end of season awards. I certainly didn’t want the event to be cancelled.
While it has fetched down the curtain on arguably the worst season in our history, it may also have marked the start of a new chapter; a new era on Wearside.
This summer we will clear out the dead wood once again. What will remain is a crop of youngsters who for what they lack in ability, they more than make up for in attitude and application. They will eventually become better given the experiences they have been through. They at least want to be here and represent our great club.
If the manager can add a sprinkling of experience to this crop there’s no real reason why we can’t have a good season next year and certainly bounce back. The powers above must also get it right, irrespective of the owner of the club is during the summer transfer window.
I back Chris Coleman and trust him all the way. As we embark on another difficult journey, surely that - along with the fact we have so many committed young players - has to be a small positive that we can cling on to?