2021/2022 has been a frustrating campaign for Nathan Broadhead and Sunderland.
The Welshman joined from Everton on a loan deal back in the summer and gradually established himself as an integral part of the team. Granted, it took a while for him to settle, but this wasn’t for the want of trying, and during his early weeks and months on Wearside, he showed glimpses of real attacking talent.
One game that stands out from this period was the 5-0 win against Cheltenham Town in September, where Broadhead was all over the pitch and did everything but score for his new club.
Once he scored that crucial first league goal, at Cambridge in November, we started to see the best of him.
Throughout November and December, Broadhead hit a rich vein of form which helped to propel us up the league. Five goals in four games, in both league and cup, is red hot form at any level, and it provided vital support to Ross Stewart in the goalscoring department.
Things came to a grinding halt at the Emirates Stadium in the League Cup quarter-final, however, after he picked up an injury which would result in him being missing from action for three months.
As 2022 dawned, Sunderland’s season fell apart. Without Broadhead’s goals to call upon, and with a defence that looked increasingly unreliable, we slipped from the top of the league to outside the playoffs in a matter of weeks.
By the time Broadhead returned to the fold, we were on the fringes of the playoff picture and looking like a side that was in danger of missing out on the top six.
His recovery, therefore, has come just in time, and his latest purple patch is keeping us firmly on course to secure a playoff place.
The ninety fifth minute winner against Gillingham was classic Broadhead: getting onto the end of a tempting cross aimed towards the back post, and the man from Bangor kept his cool to seal a huge three points for the lads.
His movement and his goal output are both vital, but his work ethic adds a whole new dimension. He doesn’t stop running, and under Alex Neil’s management, his work rate and positive attitude has spread through the entire team.
What is also refreshing about Broadhead’s play is that he can score a range of goals.
His first goal against Shrewsbury was a thumping, well-controlled strike as the ball rebounded towards him, and the second was a result of him putting the pressure on the Shrewsbury goalkeeper and making sure he got a touch as the ball was played into the box.
To cap it all off, it is obvious that Broadhead is loving his football on Wearside, and has established a real rapport with the fans in the process.
Each goal he scores clearly means the world to him, which could make it all the more painful when he returns to Goodison Park in the summer.
We’ve been here before with quality loan players. They do very well, we fall in love with them, but then the player heads back to their parent club, and we are left to think about what might have been.
It can be assumed that Everton suffering relegation to the Championship would reduce our chances of keeping Broadhead at the Stadium of Light, as the Toffees may need to rely on their academy products to a greater degree.
If there is a possibility of retaining his services, however, we should pursue it. A second season of Nathan Broadhead is something everyone around the club should be hoping for, because he is a supremely talented footballer.
Whatever happens beyond the end of the season, Broadhead will go down as one of the best players we’ve had turn out for us in this league. In reality, he is too good for this division, and it’s just important that Everton don’t realise this yet, or at least for one more season.