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The top 50 Sunderland players of the past 25 years (Part Four): The crème de la crème...

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Striker’s dominate part four, but who else sneaked into the top spots? And in what order? Here are the 13 best Sunderland players of the past quarter century.

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

13. Don Hutchison

The Gateshead-born midfielder’s time on Wearside was far too short for our liking, but his sole season at Sunderland was mightily impressive.

Moving from Everton at the turn of the century, Hutchison was an instant crowd-favourite, reaching double figures in his debut season and smashing home a goal at St. James’.

Sunderland v Man City

12. Steed Malbranque

If someone had told us that the little Frenchman had super glue on his right boot then we’d have believed them, such was his ability to carry the ball ridiculous distances without losing any level of control. He also smoked forty cigarettes a day, apparently.

He was a pleasure to watch and if he had added a few more goals to his game he would have been even more popular.

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

11. Allan Johnston

With a nickname like Magic, it’s no surprise his footwork and ability delighted the Sunderland crowd in the late 90s.

The Scottish winger, who had a telepathic relationship with Mickey Gray down the left, was the architect of many Phillips/Quinn goals in the glory years of 1997-1999, but was simultaneously capable of bagging goals himself, reaching double figures in both of his full seasons at Sunderland.

The manner of his departure is perhaps tinged with regret by both player and club, but he is still without doubt one of the most exciting players to pull on the red and white shirt.

Allan Johnston celebrates Getty Images

10. Stefan Schwarz

If you look in the dictionary, under the word “quality” you will find the words Stefan Schwarz.

The Swedish legend moved to Wearside with a great reputation and never once did he leave us with any doubt as to why. Everything he touched oozed with sheer class.

The fact he played the majority of his first season completely out of position on the wing and is still so high on this list tells you everything you need to know about Schwarz.

Villa v Sunderland X

9. Jordan Pickford

We only managed to get the rave on for a solitary season with Jordan, but to see the future England number one strut his stuff for his boyhood club was the only positive from an otherwise devastating season.

His performance at Arsenal in our penultimate game of that term is perhaps one of the most complete goalkeeping performances seen by Sunderland fans - he’s a shining example of what our Academy can produce.

Oh... and he’s Sunderland through and through.

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

8. Jordan Henderson

Sunderland born and bred, the former Academy product has been making us as proud as punch over the past few years with his displays on the world stage.

Hendo had his detractors whilst on Wearside, with a minority of fans feeling he was vastly overrated, but the truth is Jordan showed immense potential in the two seasons he spent in Sunderland’s first team and was always destined for greatness.

He’s now a worldwide name and Champions League winning captain, which is evidence that maybe, just maybe, he was pretty bloody good.

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

7. Stephane Sessegnon

Not many players have the accolade of being compared to a hybrid of Lionel Messi and Pele and, whilst it was obviously a little tongue in cheek, it was obvious to see why we held Sess in such high regard.

Naturally talented, when Sessegnon was running at defenders full pelt it was a joy to watch, and he’s in a very small bracket of players to turn out for the Lads in the last quarter century that genuinely got fans off their feet.

If he had shown more consistency, he would have played for one of the big four.

Newcastle United v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

6. Yann M’Vila

We loved Yann, so very much - and he loved us.

A player of such wonderful talent has rarely been seen on Wearside over the past half a century, and to think he literally begged us to sign him still tugs on Sunderland heartstrings to this day.

The decision to spend £13 million on the now sacked Didier Ndong instead still renders us speechless.

Sunderland v Crystal Palace - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

5. Kevin Ball

If Sunderland asked Kevin Ball to run through a brick wall then the former captain would launch into it head first - and come out the winner.

Bally had long been lauded for being hard as f**k but, in truth, he was so much more than that.

Yes, Bally was blood and thunder in the tackle but he could distribute the ball well, he was good in the air and, when you look at his back catalogue of goals, he was capable of scoring regular screamers.

Mr Sunderland is the epitome of what every SAFC fan expects from their players when they cross that white line - Ball just offered much for the Lads.

Kevin Ball

4. Darren Bent

I still hold constant, raging anger at the way he left the club - but alas, he was pretty damn good.

Bent and Sunderland was a match made in Heaven.

Bent, ridiculed at Spurs by his manager and fans, was adored at the Stadium of Light and he repaid the adoration by becoming literally the best out-and-out striker in the country.

Then he decided he’d be better off elsewhere.

What could have been eh, Darren?

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

3. Jermain Defoe

The polar opposite of Darren Bent was SAFC legend Jermain Defoe. As lethal as they come, the diminutive striker was somebody who embraced the club in a way fans can only dream of.

A seasoned goal-scorer and a huge name, Defoe was someone Wearside had been crying out for since the days of Quinn and Super Kev, and he left none of us disappointed after he arrived.

But it wasn’t just Jermain’s footballing ability that made us love him - it was the man himself. He just “got” Sunderland AFC; he knew what it meant to us and it meant just as much to him.

Sunderland v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

2. Niall Quinn

There’s so many reasons to love big Quinny, but since this is based on his playing days alone, let’s just talk about Niall on the pitch.

Joining us as an alleged “beanpole” or “has-been”, Sir Niall turned into a legend at Sunderland, striking up a little and large partnership with Kevin Phillips.

The former Arsenal striker was unplayable in the air, thriving off the ammunition fed to him by the likes of Nicky Summerbee and Allan Johnston. He was smart, skillful and so elegant with his play.

There’ll never be another Niall Quinn.

Niall Quinn

1. Kevin Phillips

Choosing between Quinn and Phillips as our greatest player of the best quarter of a century is like choosing your favourite child - or perhaps your most treasured derby goal.

However, when it really comes down to the nitty-gritty, Super Kev wins it.

Phillips was phenomenal.

Good with the ball at his feet, deceptively deadly in the air, a superb penalty taker, capable of long range screamers; he was strong, he was fast, he could cross and boy did he love scoring against the Mags.

‘Super’ is perhaps the only word to describe him.

Kevin Phillips is tackled by Steve Finnan Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images