Sunderland’s Player of the Year: 2020
Jimmy Lowson picks... Lynden Gooch
In a bitterly disappointing year for the football club. A year where there’s no real obvious standout candidate. I wanted to shine a light on one of Sunderland’s most underrated players, Lynden Gooch.
It was Gooch and Chris Maguire who spearheaded Sunderland’s temporary revival under Phil Parkinson way back at the start of 2020. Every year in League One Gooch puts up good numbers, even in an uneven start to the 2021 season, Gooch still has two goals and five assists in 13 matches. The belief that Gooch could potentially be more consistent or emerge as a Championship level footballer sometimes overshadows just what we’ve got in the 25-year-old, which is an elite attacking weapon for the third tier.
Grant Leadbitter and Bailey Wright have been Sunderland’s best two contributors this season, but their recent drop off in form was just too fresh in my memory. Maguire was magnificent before the first lockdown, but watching him amble around carrying extra timber around his waist this year has soured my opinion of him. Denver Hume deserves some love for his clear improvements over the past six months, but I still think we’re too quick to forget his bad games and ignore the clear flaws that still exist in his game.
Therefore, Gooch did just enough to earn my pick over four other credible shouts.
Matthew Crichton picks... Bailey Wright
For me it was a choice between the Aussie international, Jordan Willis, Luke O’Nien, Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch, but I think the man who has been the most reliable of the four is Bailey Wright. Had Willis stayed fit I think I would have chosen him, but Wright is one of few Sunderland players who has been an automatic selection choice when fit.
Signed originally on loan from Bristol City, Wright instantly solidified our defence and his injury before the season was curtailed was cited as a key reason for the club’s downturn in results. Overall, Wright is a clear Championship player who is integral to the Sunderland side and will likely play a key part under Lee Johnson in 2021 to try and achieve promotion back to the Championship.
Phil Butler picks... Denver Hume
There are a few different candidates for this award, mainly due to the fact that those players who impressed at the end of last season being poor performers at the beginning of this year. Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch certainly fit into this category. Other candidates include Grant Leadbitter, who has been my players of the season so far but since he didn’t play from January to March 2020 I’ve ruled him out of the annual award.
Instead, I’ve gone with Denver Hume for my player of 2020. His form dramatically improved with Sunderland’s switch to 3-4-3 this time last year, and is one of the only players to emerge from Phil Parkinson’s reign with some credit.
Chris Wynn picks... Luke O’Nien
Central midfield, full-back, centre-half or wing-back it makes no difference to O’Nien where he has been quite often the best player on the pitch.
Granted that this hasn’t been the biggest achievement over the last twelve months and he does have his weaknesses as a player, but he’s one of the few who turn out and you pretty much know the level of performance you will get.
Goal of the Year
Jimmy Lowson picks... Lynden Gooch v MK Dons (January 18th 2020)
One of the few consistent joys of supporting Sunderland in League One has been watching talented individuals bail us out of trouble. In year one in this league, it felt like there was at least four or five games where Sunderland were outplayed by an anonymous midtable side just for Aiden McGeady to whack one in the top corner, allowing us to shithouse our way to a dirty one or two-nil win.
The best example of this in 2020 was undoubtedly Gooch’s brilliant curler in Milton Keynes. With just over ten minutes to go in a cagey goalless game against MK, Sunderland had been abject and appeared to be running out of ideas. Before, Gooch cut inside from all of 25-yards, on his weaker left foot, to blast past Lee Nichols. It was one of those shots that flew into the corner like the ball was missile-guided. That goal also represents the last great moment I enjoyed supporting Sunderland away, before the pandemic changed our ability to share great sporting moments with strangers.
Phil Butler picks... Jack Diamond v Lincoln City
In terms of individual goals, there’s been a couple of better options than Diamond’s smart finish at Sincil Bank, but as far as team goals go nothing from Phil Parkinson’s time in charge can rival the smooth counter attack that lead to the academy product’s first league goal.
Chris Wynn picks... Grant Leadbitter v Doncaster Rovers
Top bins. Stanch. Take a bow son.
It also summed up Grant’s resurgence this season, and long may it continue.
Worst performance of the year
Jimmy Lowson picks... Sunderland 1-1 Burton Albion (01/12/2020)
Of all Sunderland’s frustrating results this season that one, stands out as the most frustrating and avoidable. I still can’t believe the lads were five minutes away from losing a game only one team was trying to win.
Watching Sunderland play at half-speed with no real plan or idea how to break down a team sitting deep was infuriating. This is year three of Sunderland playing in a competition where they’re the biggest club. So how is it possible that this team is still so bad at creating chances and shifting the opposition out-of-position?!
We didn’t lose, but it sure felt like it considering how incompetent we looked against League One relegation-fodder.
Matty Crichton picks... Sunderland 0-1 Mansfield (07/11/20)
The 1-0 home defeat to Mansfield symbolised everything wrong with Sunderland under Phil Parkinson. Lacking ambition, lacking standards, lacking care and it showcased how far the club had fallen that many just accepted going out in the first round of the FA Cup.
Paying £10 to watch the team lose to a squad who had not won a league all season, combined with Calum McFadzean saying “just an FA Cup game” really got under my skin.
I genuinely believe that match began the downfall of Parkinson and started a series of poor results which prompted his sacking.
Phil Butler picks... Bristol Rovers 2-0 Sunderland (10/03/20)
I have to say it was very Sunderland to not only make our worst performance of the season when us fans had 6 months of lockdown to stew on it, but also in a game which meant we dropped out of the play off places on points per game.
Sunderland quite simply didn’t turn up against a side that hadn’t won for about 6 months, and they decided to take the principled position of going into lockdown a few days early.
Chris Wynn says... Sunderland 1 - 2 MK Dons (14/11/20)
We might have had slightly worse performances, just, but the symbolism of this was deafening.
It was the beginning of the end for Parky, everybody but the club could see that after limping along since virtually the day he arrived that he needed to go.
Banter moment of the year
' :— Roker Report (@RokerReport) January 3, 2021
Banter moment of 2020...
Jimmy Lowson picks... The William Storey saga
I found the whole William Storey saga quite tedious. All it took was a little bit of googling and some common sense to realise this guy was never going to buy Sunderland. So, the constant posting and hashtags, and bizarre interviews didn’t really interest me. But his breakdown and attempts to intimidate Roker Report contributors was brilliant.
I don’t think anyone has gone from the threat of legal action to threatening violence more quickly. The fact we called his bluff twice and ultimately highlighted just how silly the energy drinks man really is, was delightful. It’s funny now, but I can’t wait to look back in a few years’ time and think back to the time when a guy claiming he was buying Sunderland was offering to throw hands with the fans.
Matty Crichton picks... Mika Mandron’s 96th minute equaliser
Just to remind you, a youth player we deemed not good enough, who had struggled to score for Gillingham all season, suddenly decided to put in a man of the match display and fire a brace which planted a nail in Sunderland’s playoff hopes.
Should the Black Cats have held on, it would have game them momentum going into a midweek game with Bristol Rovers, which Parkinson’s men went onto lose 2-0. Holding on against Gillingham could have led to the team finishing in the playoffs and then potentially achieved promotion.
The fact an ex-academy graduate came back to haunt us was just rubbing salt in the wounds!
Phil Butler picks... Kyle Lafferty
Tbh, Kyle Lafferty’s entire Sunderland career could be classed as a “banter moment” but for me the highlight has to be him scoring a brace against Gillingham and everyone thinking we’d found a replacement for Charlie Wyke, only to get hauled off at Bristol Rovers two days later before he got himself off. In true Lafferty style, he signed for a random European team after leaving as a free agent in the summer.
Chris Wynn picks... the inevitability of failing to make the play-offs
On one hand it was heartbreaking but on the other it was almost laughable how we persevered with Phil Parkinson last season as he desperately tried to get us back into the running last season after plummeting down the table.
You had to laugh at just how inevitable the whole thing was.
Memory of the year
Jimmy Lowson picks... beating Wycombe 4-0
At some point hopefully in 2021 I’ll be over this, but I’m not there yet.
I remember travelling back the day after seeing Sunderland thrash Wycombe 4-0, playing the best football they’ve ever played in League One. I distinctly remember thinking that this is it, Sunderland finally look ready to put together a title-winning run. With hindsight I probably should have known our excellent form under Phil Parkinson wouldn’t last. But what makes this my memory of the year is the ridiculousness that followed. A Wycombe team that was in freefall somehow swindling their way into the play-offs ahead of us, despite finishing below us and clearly being a worse team.
Hopefully in 2021 I won’t hear the phrase points-per-game and the word pandemic anywhere near as much.
Matty Crichton picks... The Kyril Louis-Dreyfus Takeover
The completion (subject to EFL approval) of 23-year-old Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’ takeover was probably the best present any Sunderland fan could have received this Christmas.
It prompts feelings of a new beginning and develops hope that maybe the club can potentially get out of this mess that is failing to achieve promotion in League One. 2020 featured the club failing on the pitch and off the pitch, my hope is that 2021 can make us forget the recent past and instead create an excitement about what can happen next for this football club.
This club needs a drastic revolution, we need to evolve and most importantly we win need to create a winning mentality throughout the club in both footballing and business affairs.
Phil Butler picks... Nothing
To be honest, I don’t think I’ll remember anything about Sunderland in 2020 for a particularly long time. Not only did we fail to complete the 2019/20 season, but the recent change of ownership, manager and sporting director means 2021 is very much “New Year, New Me” when it comes to Sunderland AFC. Hopefully, the abiding memory of 2020 will be that it was at the end of this year that positive changes started to happen at the club.
Chris Wynn picks...
Beginning to believe again in December at our lowest point, new manager and new ownership - here’s to 2021.
Mug of the year
' :— Roker Report (@RokerReport) January 3, 2021
The biggest mug of 2020...
Jimmy Lowson picks... William Storey
I still don’t totally understand what he gained from pretending he was buying Sunderland. In my opinion he was never a serious bidder, so what I still don’t fully understand is why did he waste everyone’s time pretending he was? I feel bad dragging up his name again, and reminding Sunderland fans he exists, but it wouldn’t seem fair to me to pick a footballing option in a year where we had to endure Storey’s nonsense.
Matty Crichton picks... Declan John
Remember him? The club signed him on loan in January, but he was never deemed good enough by Parkinson to make a first-team appearance and often did not make the matchday squad.
He left a Championship side where he could not get a game, to join a League One side where he could not get a game – it is not looking good for Declan, is it?
Another marvellous example of Sunderland’s fantastic recruitment and probably one of our strangest signings ever.
Phil Butler picks... Charlie Wyke’s Haters
Phil Parkinson may be the obvious choice for mug of the year, but I’d argue that those forced to watch his dour football are the real mugs in this situation. Therefore, I’ve gone for myself and others who doubted the goalscoring prowess of Charles Thomas Wyke. I’m being slightly facetious, but the player who almost every Sunderland fan has spent 2020 trying to replace has scored seven goals this term and has benefitted greatly from playing less of a target man role. He scored 15 in a season before signing for SAFC, and most would have taken a repeat of that tally for a top scorer this season.
Chris Wynn picks... anyone who wanted to keep going with Phil Parkinson at any point during his tenure
I was probably unfair and premature with my assessment of appointing him as manager of Sunderland.
On day one I said he wasn’t the right man for the job and nothing he ever did changed my mind. As much I wanted it to work it was just never going to happen, and I just hope anyone who defended him did it out of desperation for it to work.