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SAFC’s 2022 Review: Goal of the year, game of the year, most improved player, & looking ahead!

At the end of an exciting and eventful year for the club, we asked our writers to pick their personal highlights from the past twelve months, as well as their hopes for 2023!

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Tom Albrighton says...

Goal of the year

There’s only one correct answer and it’s the sumptuous team goal against Reading, coolly finished by Jack Clarke.

Words don’t do justice to such a work of art, and it was so influential that even Argentina had to copy it!

Most improved player

A difficult choice, because so many players have stepped up to the plate.

Despite Luke O’Nien proving me wrong by making himself a Championship player, Dennis Cirkin just about edges it for me. Some very comfortable performances have rightly seen interest in him peak.

He’s consistently improved from his initial signing in League One, he’s showed class and when fit, he’s rightly one of the first names on the team sheet. A brilliant young talent.

Game of the year

Again, it can only be one: the League One playoff final.

You don’t see Sunderland win at Wembley very often, much less as comfortably as we did. Before the game, just about every fan knew we were going to win and the Lads didn’t let us down.

We dominated proceedings from the first whistle to the last, and the game was less about who turned up on the day and more about our march out of the division.

Player to watch in 2023

Hailing from PSG’s incredible bloodstock, Edouard Michut is my one to watch.

Largely limited to cameo appearances thanks to injury, he’s oozed quality whenever he’s played.

It’s clear to see that he came from high-class surroundings and should he maintain his fitness, I’ve got no doubt that he’ll shine at Sunderland.

Aspirations for the remainder of the season

As crazy as it sounds, just a normal end to the season would be nice.

Whilst promotion is a tantalising prospect, it isn’t the be-all and end-all, and a quiet mid-table finish would suit me (and dare I say the board) quite nicely.

This is a long-term project that’s moving in the right direction - the dreams that follow the hopes are for Sunderland fans to fully invest themselves into this project and its transfer model.

Trust the process and we’ll be back in the big time before you know it

Sunderland v Rotherham - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Ewan Bowman says...

Goal of the year

We’ve seen some great goals during this calendar year: Patrick Roberts vs Sheffield Wednesday, Jack Clarke vs Reading and Alex Pritchard vs Huddersfield to name a few.

For me, though, Ross Stewart’s goal in the playoff final is the best.

When the ball hit the net, the celebrations were fantastic, and it was the realisation that we were finally back in the Championship after four long seasons.

It was also fitting that our player of the season scored his twenty sixth goal to get us over the line.

Most improved player

Anthony Patterson. A player who was playing National League football a year ago, and is now our number one keeper in the Championship.

His shot stopping is great; he’s made crucial saves throughout the year and he’s only going to get better.

Game of the year

It has to be the playoff final versus Wycombe, with two great goals to mark the day we finally got promoted.

The team were excellent and completed outplayed and outclassed Wycombe. The celebrations and relief at full time were something I will never forget.

Player to watch in 2023

My player to watch for 2023 is Abdoullah Ba.

He’s got the ability to make a huge impact during the second half of the season.

Aspirations for the remainder of the season

My hopes for us are to achieve a playoff place.

If we can keep Stewart and Amad beyond January, we’ve got a very good chance of achieving a top six finish, and if we sign one or two more players, the sky is the limit.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Michael Dunne says...

Goal of the year

For the sheer importance and the sense of relief it brought, I’ll go with Ross Stewart’s goal against Wycombe.

When it went in, it just felt like promotion was really going to happen- the noise inside Wembley was unbelievable.

Most improved player

Anthony Patterson.

A year ago, he was playing for Notts County and now he’s our number one.

He’s still very raw but there’s an assurance and confidence about his game and I think he’s only going to improve.

Game of the year

The playoff semi-final first leg at the Stadium of Light was my favourite game to be at.

It showed exactly what the stadium can be like for big matches. The players turned up and so did the fans- we turned it into a cauldron of noise.

Player to watch in 2023

It has to be Stewart!

His game is going from strength to strength and I think he’s got the potential to become a Premier League striker.

I don’t think he’ll go anywhere in January but if we don’t go up in the summer, I can see him moving up a league.

Aspirations for the remainder of the season

A few weeks ago, I didn’t care where we finished once we were clear of relegation but with our main players back, I’m starting to believe that a playoff push is on the cards.

We’ve got some of the best players in the division and our attacking play is going to hurt many teams.

It wouldn’t be a disaster if we don’t go up, but let’s kick on for the remainder of season and see where it takes us.

Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Semi Final - First Leg - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says...

Goal of the year

Patrick Roberts’ goal away at Sheffield Wednesday in the playoff semi-final.

It was a shame that we didn’t end up playing the Owls in the final, as that would have been some weekend in London for both sets of fans, but Roberts making the run and putting that goal away under that level of pressure, so late in the game and away from home was immense.

Most improved player

I’d go for Amad on this one.

When he first arrived he came across like a bit of a lost puppy, but he’s now one of the first names on the team sheet, and a player who’s integral to everything positive that we do.

His speed of feet and creativity are on another level, and if we can do with him what we did with Jack Clarke and convert him into a permanent signing, we’ll have a Premier League-quality player ready for the future.

Game of the year

I think the game against Reading was the game of this year as a whole.

While Jack Clarke’s finish will no doubt be a contender for goal of the season, the entire performance was as close to perfection as I have seen in terms of a Sunderland game being executed.

Even before Clarke got on the end of a beauty of a pass from Dan Neil, Patrick Roberts had jinked his way into the Reading box twice late in the first half, and curled two beauties into bottom corner. We blew them away with two goals in three minutes and that impeccable team goal put the icing on the cake.

Even after Ellis Simms went off early, we were amazing that night.

Player to watch in 2023

Dan Neil.

He’s taken a bit of stick at times and has also taken some time to settle into the Championship, but during the last couple of matches he has started to look like the Premier League standard player that he is.

With the right complement of players around him he is one of the best midfielders in this league and I can’t wait to see him continuing to operate at his best.

Aspirations for the remainder of the season

I’d quite like us to make the playoffs.

That’s not necessarily because I think we’re ready to go up, but it’s so that this team can gain experience of playing for a spot in the top flight as part of their development.

I don’t want this young squad to fear the possibility of a playoff berth. To make the top six straight after coming up from the third tier would be a hugely positive achievement.

Reading v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

Kevin Campbell says...

Goal of the year

Ross Stewart’s goal in the first leg of the playoff semifinal against Sheffield Wednesday, because it gave us the belief that we really were finally going up.

It epitomized Stewart in one move: pressing hard, nicking the ball away, and not giving up until the ball was in the back of the net.

It’s also my favorite because of the absolute scenes that ensued. Even from across the pond and through a television screen, the reaction to that goal was epic.

Most improved player

I’m going with Dan Neil for this one.

At the beginning of 2022, he was struggling for confidence and struggling to even keep hold of the ball. Lee Johnson just kept throwing him to the wolves with what looked to be no instruction at times.

Alex Neil didn’t really rate him, but Tony Mowbray has turned the key to begin unlocking his full potential.

Game of the year

I know the result didn’t hold, but the season opener at home against Coventry was my favourite.

Jack Clarke put us ahead early so we could spend the majority of the game throwing a massive ‘welcome back’ party.

There may have been more emotion for me in that one than the playoff final, to be honest.

Player to watch in 2023

Jewison Bennette.

I know he hasn’t featured much, but the kid is talented beyond measure.

He’s broken through at international level and I think his future could be in the Premier League, so keep an eye on his development.

Aspirations for the remainder of the season

Premier league glory! Don’t scoff, because we’re already halfway there.

Sunderland v Burnley - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

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