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Sunderland v Northampton Town - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light

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Sunderland Season Review 2020-21: Best game, manager rating & player of the season!

In part two of our season review, we rate the manager’s performance and put forward our suggestions for best game and player of the season. What gets your vote?

Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Game of the Season

Matthew Crichton says...

Sunderland 4-1 Doncaster, 13th February 2021

I remember this game as one that gave me genuine belief that Sunderland could break into the top two and achieve promotion.

To obliterate a promotion rival in the first-half was tremendous to watch, Aiden McGeady assisted all four of Charlie Wyke’s goals and the marksman looked like no one could stop him.

It was the start of our 12-match unbeaten run and I believe it gave the players’ belief that the team could achieve something. I just wish that we all could have been at the Stadium of Light to experience it properly with a roaring atmosphere.

Imagine the noise inside when Sunderland were 3-0 up after 30 minutes?

Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One
Charlie Wyke celebrating the first goal against Doncaster in February
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Martin Wanless says...

Portsmouth 0-2 Sunderland, 9th March 2021

For me, this was the most complete performance of the season. Measured, confident and ruthless. We dominated proceedings from the off, and looked an absolute class apart. Probably the best 90 minutes we’ve played since dropping down to the third tier.

Malc Dugdale says...

Portsmouth 0-2 Sunderland, 9th March 2021

I have to agree with Martin on this one - the away performance at Fratton Park was the first of many “hoodoo” games that we conquered this season. We totally bossed the game from the off, and for once we built on our early possession and promise with a Wyke goal in the first 15 mins.

The second half was just as convincing, and the second goal was totally down to grit, determination and desire to win, with Jordan Jones pouncing on a half chance and sublimely chipping the keeper to lock down the result with half an hour to play.

We could have played another three hours and Pompey wouldn’t have got anything in my view. We had them on toast, as the saying goes.

A master class in tactics from Johnson, and a demonstration of impeccable strategy execution from every man out on the paddock. Just wish we’d had a few more of them types of performance, as if we did we would have been up now.

Portsmouth v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Jordan Jones celebrates scoring Sunderland’s second goal at Portsmouth in March
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Anthony Gair says...

Portsmouth 0-2 Sunderland, 9th March 2021

Make that three of us - there’s not much else I can put here that Martin and Malc haven’t already said. Only that, this was the game that made me feel that all hope wasn’t lost on our club, and we were capable of a ‘masterclass’ in a big game.

Oh it’s the hope that kills us.

Rate the Gaffer’s Performance

Matthew Crichton says... 7/10

This may seem a high mark given he failed to achieve the desired goal of promotion, but I think Lee Johnson has done more right than wrong since he became Sunderland manager.

Rather than focusing on our dip in form, which was massively influenced through injuries, look at the positives:

  • Sunderland won their first match at Wembley since 1973 and lifted a trophy
  • He provided opportunities to younger players who had largely been ignored
  • He brought the best out of many players such as Charlie Wyke and Aiden McGeady
  • He gave the club a chance of promotion from what seemed a hopeless position

I strongly believe Johnson paid for previous poor recruitment and terrible injury luck, he deserves a summer transfer window and pre-season with the players before he is judged properly.

Martin Wanless says... 6/10

Before Easter I’d have given him an 8. The subsequent run was poor though, we were awful in that first leg against Lincoln, and it has raised question marks.

I think he was over confident early on – ditching the three at the back so quickly after taking over (two hours, in fact) was rash, and his reluctance to play people like Maguire cost us. It’s a big summer for the gaffer.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Play-off Semi Final 2nd Leg
Lee Johnson during the play-off semi-final second leg at the Stadium of Light
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says... 6/10

The ultimate aim for Johnson was to get us promoted by any and all means necessary, and he failed at that hence I have to limit Johnson to a 6. If these grades were letters, he would have a “plus” next to it though, as I think he shows a lot of promise to come.

He gets a little more than a 5 as he did succeed in the EFL trophy, and he did manage to get the team to pull off a run of results that gave us a real shot at going up, despite the poor start to the season under Parkinson, and even though our back line was decimated with injuries.

He gets no more than a 6 for several reasons. I intentionally say “run of results” above rather than “run of form”. Though we won so many of those games in the sequence of 15 or so, a lot of them were not very convincing, and at times we were a bit “jammy”. Later in the season, the law of averages/rub of the green balanced themselves out (remember all that woodwork we hit against Lincoln?), and we missed out.

A team who has deserved form and deep rooted capability doesn’t have that happen to them. I do think with a bit of improvement in terms of tactics and taking a bit more of a punt with some of our emerging youth, we could have actually gone up, but he didn’t quite have enough in him and the squad to achieve that. People may cite the fact he inherited the squad and, due to the salary cap, he couldn’t do much to change it in January.

Many points are valid for his failure to get us up, but other managers got their teams up in the same salary constraints, and likely with injuries of their own to deal with, and with way inferior facilities to ours. He now needs to build a team that walks the league, builds in the second tier and then take us home to the top tier. If he succeeds with that, he could be our manager for some time, which in itself resolves some of the issues primarily caused by excess manager churn.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
The appointment of Lee Johnson saw the improvement in the form of Charlie Wyke last season
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Anthony Gair says... 9/10

Controversial rating, I know, but maybe my views of the situation that Parkinson, Donald and Methven left us in, has convoluted my opinions somewhat.

However, to have been capable of making us look like ‘dead certs’ for automatic promotion from the situation we were in, was nothing short of miraculous. Ok, maybe I’m overhyping the state somewhat, but to have gone 13 games unbeaten, with the cards he was dealt, was some achievement.

Obviously, we all know the wheels fell off at the end, but I cannot blame Johnson for that (and yes, I know a lot of you won’t agree with me!)

Player of the Season

Matthew Crichton says...

Aiden McGeady

It feels bizarre awarding this to a player who only started playing in December, but Aiden McGeady’s impact this season was nothing short of phenomenal in terms of creativity.

The Irishman finished the season with 17 assists in all competitions and played a pivotal role in the improved goalscoring form of Charlie Wyke.

After being banished by Phil Parkinson, the 35-year-old proved to everyone on Wearside that his attitude was not an issue and that he still had something to offer. He may have been short of goals, but his crossing and one-vs-one dribbling were outstanding.

It would be a major blow to Lee Johnson’s side if he cannot agree terms for a new contract.

Martin Wanless says...

Dion Sanderson

See my young player of the season in part one, he was that good. It was no coincidence our good run began with Sanderson in the team – and ended when he came out.

Sunderland v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet League One
Dion Sanderson
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says...

Aiden McGeady

Like Matthew, I have to give this honour to Aiden McGeady, primarily as he did as much as his peers at other clubs in way less games, and at the not so tender age of 34-35.

Despite being ostracised from the first team squad by Parkinson from the start of the campaign until his departure, McGeady never lost his passion for our club nor his intent to contribute to his maximum ability, and he still hasn’t.

After being recalled to first team action in December by Johnson, he was available for around 27 games, missing only 3, which is a great achievement given he turned 35 this season so must be more injury prone than younger squad members. In those games he registered 14 assists in the league, which is nothing short of incredible.

His performance along side that of Jack Diamond away at Lincoln was something to behold - the two wide-men were unplayable, and against a side at that time sitting strongly in the top two. And of course, he played that pass to put Gooch through at Wembley for our first victory at the national venue for almost 50 years. His vision isn’t waning, even if his years are advancing.

Interestingly, while I do think he will stay for another spell, I don’t think (and don’t agree) he will or should be a major factor next season, likely more of an impact sub. He deserves this recognition though, with his stunning stats in just over half a season. Mint.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Play-off Semi Final 2nd Leg
Imagine if we’d had McGeady for a full season...
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Anthony Gair says...

Charlie Wyke

To have scored 31 goals in a season where we were largely toothless for the majority of it, was brilliant.

I could have taken the easy option, like the lads above with Sanderson or McGeady, but Wyke cannot go unnoticed having pretty much scored the goals that have stopped us from mid table mediocrity on his own.

Telling the fans to f**k off after the play-offs is a bit shit like, but still, he needs to be appreciated.


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