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Doncaster Rovers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Mid-Season Assessment: How do you rate Sunderland’s 2021/22 campaign so far?

We’re halfway through the season, sat 2nd in League One having reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup. How do you rate how Sunderland have fared so far?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Phil West says... 7/10!

We’ve seen some excellent performances and results, as well as some poor showings and heavy defeats, but overall, I think our campaign has been very good. In terms of league position, we are in a very handy place and have recovered extremely well from some bad defeats to the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham. Lee Johnson has shown good resilience, even in the face of some vicious criticism at times, and there is no doubt that he and the players are working as one to try and achieve our ambition this season.

In terms of improvements, I’d like to see us continue to dictate games from the start, as we did against Doncaster, and to ensure that our finishing is as ruthless as it can be.

We must also aim to ensure that defensively, we keep things tight and efficient (that will be helped with some January recruitment) and that we continue to provide good service for the likes of Ross Stewart. Individually, players like Leon Dajaku are still finding their way, but you can definitely see positive signs emerging and it’s becoming clear that the summer overhaul has certainly had the desired effect.

Finally, my player of the season so far has been Dan Neil, with honourable mentions for Callum Doyle and Carl Winchester.

He’s provided a real feel-good story, as a local lad who’s established himself in the first team, and the way he has stepped up and settled into League One football has been superb. He rarely looks flustered on the pitch, and has the ability to create space for himself and bring others into play, even in tight situations.

Those are all attributes that are very valuable to us, and if he continues to improve, he’s going to be one hell of a player in the years to come.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League One
Phil’s Player of the Season so far: Dan Neil
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Kev Campbell says... 8.5/10!

At the beginning of the season, the consensus was that promotion was the only acceptable expectation. Halfway through the season, we’re sat in an automatic position dead on two points per game. I say it so often, but it’s worth repeating: if you told me this is where we would be at the beginning of the season, I would have taken it, no questions asked.

The season loses two marks for our poor run of form at the end of October capped off by our FA Cup exit to Mansfield and the most bizarre, and pointless, 1-1 loss to Bradford to end Pizza Cup group play.

I also give the season a half mark back for the way the team have responded over the last month. In the face of massive criticism, and despite an injury catastrophe, we’re now eight unbeaten in the league with injured players beginning to return and a transfer window opening eminently.

I’d love to see some “improvement”, if it can be called that, in the area of positional consistency. Players are being asked to play out of position quite a lot.

On the other hand, that’s why Johnson loves versatile players and I trust his management of the situation wholeheartedly.

Player of the season so far is one of the more difficult questions. I think there are several who are worthy of a shout for it. But ultimately, I’ll give it to the one player that I believe has been the most consistent in their high level of play. Carl Winchester.

Whether it’s been at right back (the argument could be made that he’d make the league’s team of the season there) or in central midfield, his performances have been superb. If he can sustain his form to the end of the season, he has a chance to etch his name into SAFC folklore forever and make himself a proper cult hero.

There is plenty to be proud of and lots to look forward to as we turn the corner on what is hopefully, our last League One season ever.

Arsenal v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Quarter Final
Kev’s Player of the Season so far: Carl Winchester
Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says... 8/10!

It’s been a great first half of the campaign, but there is room for improvement.

Going back to the start of the season, if I was offered to have the lads in the second auto promotion spot and a point (and a place) off top, I would be far from the only Sunderland fan to take that. So why am I not suggesting a 10/10 performance?

The main reason I would cite is the dropped points we could have taken but didn’t, especially earlier in the season when strangely we had more players available than we do now, but we weren’t nearly as good at taking teams to task.

If we had been just a little bit more clinical in putting sides to the sword as we found our best XI, we could be way out in front by now.

Just skimming through some of our early fixtures, even as far back as Burton in August we played very well but lost, dropping three valuable league points. Add in the September draw at Fleetwood, the three points dropped at Portsmouth in their “temporary pool” (when even a draw would have been decent), and the nine goals and nine points we gave away at Rotherham, at Wednesday and at home to Charlton, and we could have had anywhere between 7/8 and 15-18 more points than we do now.

That would have been a 10/10 first half, and even assuming a midway haul of 12 points, that would have us 11 clear of Rotherham. And I haven’t even factored in draws in November and December…

Truth is though, we are playing in a way that is great to watch but which at times will mean we concede, and we won’t always be able to outscore every team. We have to expect some odd bad days, and accept them when they come around.

If from this point on we can maintain a run where we lose minimal games, stay very strong at home and win or draw more than we lose away, this promotion is ours to lose.

On player of the season so far, from my perspective, this is a dead heat between Pritch and Neil. Both of those could make it into League One team of the season, should they carry on as they are right now.

Well done to Lee and the lads… we could easily have buckled when we lost those three in a row, but we bounced back and are on a great run.

Let’s get some new blood in during January, and show this league our extra gears, which in my view we have hardly even kicked into yet.

Bring on the second half - let’s do this.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Malc’s Player of the Season so far: Alex Pritchard or Dan Neil
Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Martin Wanless says... 7/10!

We’ve racked up a good number of points - I keep talking about the 2ppg ratio and we’re tracking well on that score - and we’ve built a squad that is both performing well and has significant potential, too.

If you cast your mind back to the eve of the Wigan game, there was significant criticism being levelled at the club over the signing we had - or hadn’t - made. Fast forward to the year’s end, and I’m sure everyone would have been content with where we are.

On the field, a number of players have done extremely well. The standout is Dan Neil, of course, but Callum Doyle, Ross Stewart and Carl Winchester have all done better than probably could have been expected.

The hugely promising thing for me, however, is those players who are delivering now but who’ve still got significant room for improvement. Hoffmann, Cirkin, Embleton and Dajaku, for example, have contributed well so far but have a lot of scope to get better and better. Neil, too, of course.

On the downside, memories of those heavy defeats at Portsmouth, Rotherham and Sheff Wed still linger, and will only be put to bed when we prove in away games against the likes of Wycombe that we’ve learnt from the harsh lessons that were dished out.

I think, overall too, the club would get a solid 7 out of 10. While discontent continues to be fuelled regarding ownership issues - which need transparency but don’t automatically deserve the disproportionate negativity - and the issues over ticketing and the club shop, they continue to build a proper footballing structure that will hopefully serve us well.

More than that, however, they rightly stuck by Lee Johnson when a few results went against us, and that augers well for the future. If they’d sacked him it would have shown little had changed. By ignoring the vocal extremists primarily on social media, the club showed a strong long-term focus, which can only be good for the future of our club.

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