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Roker Report’s End-of-Season Sunderland Grades: Defenders - Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrghhh... nooooooooo!

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The horror show continues as we give our end-of-season grades to the players that got us relegated from the Championship. Who was the best and worst of Sunderland’s crop of under-performing defenders?

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Tyias Browning: D

After a promising start to life on Wearside, Tyias Browning regressed badly. The Everton loanee was a regular in a defence that gave up 80 goals in the league this season - only Burton Albion conceded more.

The most disappointing aspect of Browning’s loan spell at Sunderland is that things started so promisingly. He was commanding and dominant in the lads opening few fixtures, especially in impressive team performances away at Norwich City and Sheffield Wednesday.

His partnership with Lamine Kone looked like the foundation on which Sunderland’s season would be built upon, but unfortunately it soon became unplayable, and any chemistry built-up between the two was ruined by Kone’s inability to stay focused throughout Championship games.

But it was a formation switch that ruined Browing’s season and saw him transform from an effective no-nonsense defender into an awkward clumsy left centre-back who treated the ball as if it were lava.

When Chris Coleman switched permanently to a back three, Browning floundered.

His physicality and ability to dominate a penalty box was stymied as he was forced to spend more time out wide, whilst his lack of confidence on the ball was exploited by teams over and over again.

Browning might become a quality Championship centre back, but if he can’t find a way to relax with a football at his feet, he’ll soon be joining Sunderland in the lower reaches of the Football League.

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

Papy Djilobodji: E-

The calamitous centre back played just once for the Black Cats in the 2017-18 season. The £8 million flop was horrific in his League Cup start against Carlisle.

A ninety minute showing at Brunton Park was all that Lads fans needed to be reminded of just how terrible Papy could be, as he showcased his usual awful decision making and terrible defensive instincts.

The 29-year-old’s remarkable ability to go from decent technician to pub league player in seconds was also on display in this otherwise forgettable second round meeting.

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League 2 Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Brendan Galloway: F

Brendan Galloway is clearly a talented footballer - you don’t become an important squad player for a perennial top half Premier League club like Everton at the age of 20 without ability.

However, he was a complete disaster at the Stadium of Light. It’s hard to imagine a more demoralising, embarrassing season that a previously touted prospect could suffer.

The physicality of the league proved too much for a lanky lightweight technician like Galloway to handle. Other early errors, from bad spatial awareness and an ability to track the flight of the ball, didn’t help endear the 22-year-old to the Sunderland faithful as well.

Galloway’s most memorable showing was an embarrassing performance at home against Leeds United. This massive early season fixture was televised by sky and was highly anticipated by both sets of fans, but with the pressure on Galloway was dreadful. The left-back’s awareness of his own short-comings seem to be affecting his performance. You will never see a clearer example of a player with a point to prove trying too hard.

After just 55 minutes, Simon Grayson was forced to take Galloway off, fearing the youngster - already on a booking who was being mercilessly targeted by Leeds - would get sent off.

The most depressing aspect of Galloway’s stay at Sunderland is that a change in manager didn’t represent a change in fortunes for the defender - Chris Coleman had even less trust in him.

Livingston v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Denver Hume: C

An impossible player to judge given that he only made a 19 minute cameo in our final game of the campaign.

His development next season will be fascinating given that Sunderland only have one senior left-back - and he is openly looking to leave.

Tottenham Hotspur v Sunderland - Premier League 2 Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Billy Jones: D-

Another major disappointment. Jones had previously excelled at this level as a bright spark in an otherwise sub-standard Preston North End team.

However, the right back gave us more of the same infuriating rubbish that has defined his time in the North East. That winning combination of wasteful passing and keystone-cop defending meant that the 31-year old was once again a liability in a defence that performed abysmally all year.

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

Lamine Kone: C-

The toughest player to grade in the entire squad - Lamine Kone’s performance levels and effort levels varied from week to week.

The Ivorian had two stretches at the start and end of the season where he dominated forwards without ever getting out of second gear.

Yet, there were also games where he stopped trying and visibly wanted to be anywhere but on a football pitch representing Sunderland AFC. In twenty years of watching football, I’ve never seen a player disrespect the club and his teammates by putting in such an abysmal effort in games.

But for all his flaws, when Kone was on his game - like in our hilarious 4-1 drubbing of Derby County - he reaches a level no other player in the team can reach.

A liability and a Championship all-star all wrapped into one imposing athlete, hopefully this summer will see us say goodbye to the enigma that is Lamine Kone.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Donald Love: C-

Donald Love finished the season in brilliant form - he plays with an infectious enthusiasm and defends with both intelligence and tenacity. Going forward, the right back could be a big player for Sunderland during our attempt to win promotion out of League One next season.

For all there is to admire about the 23-year-old, you can’t ignore his struggles earlier in the season and the lack of quality he provided when used as a wing back.

Love’s inability to contribute offensively and struggles in that aspect of his game stopped him getting a higher mark. Next season might see the ex-Manchester United man become a regular starter for the first time on Wearside, and with just a few key improvements he could become a cult hero.

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League 2 Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Adam Matthews: C-

Adam Matthews was one of few Sunderland players to enjoy good patches of form during this torrid season.

A decent technician and without any real obvious weaknesses, the ex-Celtic defender has largely been a solid Championship performer - especially in the initial period after Chris Coleman was appointed manager.

The Wales international loses marks for his shaky performances at left-back early in the season under Grayson, and his lack of dynamism and inability to impact a game in an attacking sense when Coleman deployed him as a right wing back.

Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images

John O’Shea: D

No defender played more minutes for Sunderland in the Championship than John O’Shea, a remarkable statistic when you consider how bad our captain has been.

Our long-term skipper did manage a few impressive performances just after Coleman’s arrival, anchoring a three-man defence, but unsurprisingly he soon returned back to the human turnstile we’ve seen strikers expose year after year in Sunderland.

His lack of athleticism and physical strength has, on many occasions this season, cost Sunderland a series of avoidable and disappointing goals, whilst playing someone as glacially slow as the former Republic of Ireland international also hurt our ability to press and impose our will on teams.

His decline was most ruthlessly exposed in our 3-3 shootout with Middlesbrough. Put a league average defender in O’Shea’s place, and Sunderland win that game.

Stewart Donald - whatever you do, do not offer this man another contract.

PA Images via Getty Images

Bryan Oviedo: C

Much like Kone, Oviedo is another player who had the overall footballing ability to be a real asset in the Championship, but who rarely reached his absolute maximum level of performance.

The Costa Rican has Premier League-level technique and spatial awareness, but at times was a horrific one on one defender who also can’t tackle. There were games when playing at wing-back that Oviedo was Sunderland’s best attacker - but this is more a damning indictment of Sunderland’s forwards than an appraisal of the left-back’s creativity.

He also scored a superb goal at Millwall and contributed the third most key passes of any player in a Sunderland shirt.

Overall it was an inconsistent season from a player who would probably still be in the Premier League if he wasn’t injured so often and prone to lapses of concentration.

Getty Images

Marc Wilson: E

Another major disappointment - I was one of the Sunderland fans naïve enough to think the deadline day trio of Callum McManaman, Jonny Williams and Wilson would improve our team and be above average players in their positions in the Championship.

Wilson in particular has been nothing short of a disaster. He’s rarely been fit and when he has played he’s looked lightweight and indecisive.

Watching the Republic of Ireland international play this season has been bizarre - a man who has been a regular fixture in the top flight for much of his career and was very successful alongside Ryan Shawcross at Stoke has, in all honesty, spent much of the last year looking like he didn’t know how to play football.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Jake Clarke-Salter: E

Clarke-Salter might go on to have a very successful career - he’s clearly shown promise in the youth ranks for both Chelsea and England - yet he’s another player who just couldn’t rise to the pressure of playing for a Sunderland team that was already bereft of confidence prior to his arrival.

His back-to-back red cards in games against Middlesbrough and Preston will define his time here. Both were stupid, avoidable and highly costly to a team fighting for their Championship lives.

It wasn’t all bad - he was our best defender in his first two appearances, including what felt like at the time a crucial victory at home against Hull.

It will be fascinating to see if Clarke-Salter’s miserable stay here will be the making or breaking of him as a professional athlete.


Join us tomorrow as Alex McCain grades Sunderland’s midfielders!