As the current League One season has been postponed temporarily due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it is a good time to reflect upon the season so far and decide which Sunderland players Phil Parkinson should potentially offer a new contract to.
With over half of the first-team being out of contract or due to conclude their loan spells, Sunderland are left to make some important decisions about how they want to shape the squad ready for next season.
There are ten league fixtures remaining, but with promotion looking unlikely Sunderland could lose the likes of Chris Maguire and Jon McLaughlin to Championship clubs. Other players may find them themselves being released, perhaps left to find new clubs lower down the football pyramid come July 1st.
Note: These predictions have been made with the assumption that Phil Parkinson will remain manager and that Sunderland will remain in League One.
Also, Luke O’Nien’s contract is due to expire, but Sunderland have an extension clause at their disposal.
Chris Maguire - 84 appearances, 20 goals & 20 assists
Credit where it is due to Stewart Donald on this one. The Scottish winger was signed from Bury through our Chairman’s recommendation. He was largely unknown to our supporters and was branded lazy by a proportion of his old fans, yet he has become a massive fan favourite.
Slightly less effective under Jack Ross, but under Phil Parkinson Maguire has become an integral part of Sunderland’s setup, following Aiden McGeady’s departure
With 12 goals and 10 assists so far this season, the ex-Scotland international has been directly involved in 45% of Sunderland’s goals this season - no one else in our squad possesses the creativity of Chris Maguire.
Losing Maguire would be a critical blow for Sunderland, we simply must keep him.
Verdict: Offer a new deal.
Jon McLaughlin - 90 appearances, 27 clean sheets
I really hope McLaughlin stays, but unless we achieve promotion I think the Scot is likely to be poached by a club playing Championship football - his last three transfers have all been via a Bosman.
Bar a blip earlier this season, McLaughlin has been an excellent signing for Sunderland - who can forget his performance in the playoff semi-final at Fratton Park last season?
My thinking behind this deal being difficult is that McLaughlin is currently second choice to Wigan’s David Marshall in the Scotland setup, surely the only way to become first choice is to play at the same level?
I think Lee Burge is a solid League One option, but losing McLaughlin would be another episode of Sunderland losing their best first-team players.
Verdict: Offer a new deal.
Duncan Watmore - 87 appearances, 8 goals & 11 assists
It is such a shame that Watmore has had rotten luck with injuries. Once a starter for England Under-21s and Sunderland during our memorable escape from relegation under Sam Allardyce in the Premier League, now he cannot even start in League One.
I always defended Watmore saying he would be effective at this level, but his decline in pace and evident fear of being injured has severely hampered his confidence.
He is the final Sunderland player remaining on Premier League wages so his release will be a formality, no doubt that for whoever he joins next he will rediscover his best form and score goals for fun - that is the Sunderland way.
Alim Ozturk - 45 appearances, 0 goals & 1 assist
Now for the cult hero...
I always get slammed on Twitter for saying it, but Alim Ozturk should not be starting games for Sunderland.
Often the positive argument is that he does “the basics” well, but his shocking ability on the ball and severe lack of pace is criminally exposed far too often, at this level you need every player on the pitch to be comfortable on the ball.
He tries his best and I cannot fault his attitude, but I firmly believe we can do better and Bailey Wright was a huge improvement prior to his injury.
Tom Flanagan - 64 appearances, 4 goals & 1 assist
I am not a huge admirer of Tom Flanagan, but he has been a popular choice by Phil Parkinson since he introduced playing three centre-backs.
I think we should be looking for an improved option at left-centre-back (preferably an actual left-footer), but any squad needs cover and the Northern Ireland international is vastly experienced at League One level.
Flanagan has been on Wearside two years now and if we don’t want to completely overhaul the squad, he would be someone I would keep around for competition.
Verdict: Offer a new deal.
Jack Baldwin - 42 appearances, 3 goals & 0 assists
The recently released series two of Sunderland Til I Die unveiled Baldwin’s psychological struggles during his time on Wearside.
For a large proportion of last season I thought the ex-Peterborough captain was our best central defender, but a poor Wembley performance followed by a catastrophic showing in a 5-4 defeat against Coventry placed a firm nail in the coffin.
Baldwin is set to play another EFL Trophy final on loan with Salford, where he has taken up a new position in central midfield alongside ex-Sunderland player Darron Gibson... yes you are reading that correctly.
Bar a late u-turn, Baldwin is highly likely to leave the club.
Kyle Lafferty - 11 appearances, 2 goals & 1 assist
A difficult one to judge considering Parkinson is reluctant to use the Northern Ireland international, even though he often makes a difference.
I firmly believe Lafferty has the quality to score goals at this level; however, questions must be asked concerning both his fitness and attitude - there must be a reason why Parkinson consistently picks Charlie Wyke even though he fails to score goals.
Against Gillingham we witnessed exactly what he can do, but to earn a new deal Lafferty must begin to start games and score goals. We cannot be promoted with strikers who cannot score at least ten goals a season, so it is down to Lafferty to prove he can.
Verdict: Offer a new deal if he scores goals.
Joel Lynch - 16 appearances, 0 goals or assists
I don’t know what it is about Joel Lynch, but for a player who has played most of his career in the Championship, he has been fairly underwhelming.
He has been yellow carded during one in three matches and has failed to cement a place in our first-team, even though he is the only left-footed centre-back at the club.
With the Welshman being 32, I think Sunderland would be better off letting him go and finding a younger defender who can grow with the club, rather than someone who is almost certain to decline.
Bailey Wright - 5 appearances, 0 goals or assists
Before anyone tweets me, I know he is on loan from Bristol City...
However, he is out contract with them once his Sunderland loan concludes, meaning Parkinson would be free to sign him permanently.
The Australian international was colossal at the heart of the back-three, as Sunderland kept four clean sheets in the five games he played, although he can be injury prone, when fit he is a class above League One level.
Signing the former captain of a promotion battling Championship side free of charge would be a major coup for Sunderland, and would set a standard for the calibre of players the club wants to attract.
Verdict: Offer a permanent contract.
Ethan Robson - 14 appearances, 1 goal & 1 assist
The case of Ethan Robson is highly frustrating, a player who possesses evident talent but just cannot stay fit. At 23 years-old, Robson has only made 54 career appearances, with Sunderland’s reluctance to loan him out combined with injuries to blame.
Robson enjoyed productive loan spells with Dundee and Grimsby, but has been completely overlooked by Phil Parkinson, not even making the substitutes bench.
The midfielder looks set to end his Sunderland career as a what-if player. He has gone from being set to start in Jack Ross’ first league match against Charlton, to not making a league appearance for Sunderland in two seasons due to unfortunately timed injuries and loan spells.
Unless he begins to play in the final ten matches, it seems highly likely Robson will depart.
Benji Kimpioka - 14 appearances, 3 goals & 1 assist
Should the Swedish Under-21 international leave, it will complete a painful series of Sunderland losing their best young talent for practically nothing.
During the EFL Trophy fixtures Kimpioka has displayed his potential, but he has found League One opportunities hard to come by, leaving many surprised as to why has not been loaned out.
The Sunderland Echo reported that he was offered a new four-year contract, but similarly to Josh Maja, the Swede appears to be biding his time, waiting for a better opportunity to arise.
The likelihood is that Sunderland will once again lose an up-and-coming talent for buttons, when the club should have done everything to preserve the academy squads from being torn to pieces.
Verdict: Has been offered a new four-year contract.
Josh Scowen - 4 appearances, 0 goals or assists
Although it is impossible to find information regarding Josh Scowen’s transfer to Sunderland, I am led to believe he signed an initial six-month contract.
A series of brief cameo appearances, followed by a mediocre performance in the Lads’ dreadful away defeat at Bristol Rovers, has left fans with many unanswered questions concerning Scowen.
However, he is vastly experienced at League One level and dropped from the Championship to join the club, so you would imagine he has something to offer provided he begins to start games.
Considering Parkinson signed him, I would imagine he wants to keep him around.
Verdict: Offer a new deal.
Tommy Smith - yet to debut
What is there to say?
The New Zealand international defender was signed as a replacement for the injured Bailey Wright, but after playing his most recent football in the MLS, many are left wondering if he is capable of replicating the form he shown at Ipswich for many years.
This is almost certainly a time will tell decision, If Smith can break into the Sunderland squad he has every chance of earning a new deal.
The definitive question will be, is he a better option to keep than Ozturk and Flanagan?
Verdict: He has 10 games to earn a new contract.