Andrew Smithson says...
I think if you had asked me to predict this in December the answers may have been very different - there was even one point in the season where I would have said Tom Flanagan was in with a shout.
Certainly, some of his performances in the first weeks of the season were amongst the best of his time here and the fact he is no longer at the club just emphasises the up and down nature of the campaign for a lot of the squad.
We have seen some people come in and enjoy really strong spells but to be Player of the Season you need to produce consistently. Ross Stewart falls into that category definitely and would be the favourite I guess, but I’d say Carl Winchester deserves a bit of praise too.
He has featured in several different positions yet he has continued to have a positive impact no matter what his role is. I like the way he seems to carry himself and it feels as if he relishes being at the club, so hopefully he will continue to have an influence as we go forward.
Both Winchester and Stewart arrived at SAFC in January 2021 and after settling in have really kicked on since last summer. I love that neither of them ever give the impression that playing for us is a chore or that they are doing us a favour by being here, and having lads like that who are desperate to do well for themselves and for the team is always a positive - no matter who gets POTS these two have shown everybody what we need to see from individuals in a Sunderland shirt and they deserve some recognition for that.
As for Young Player of the Season there are quite a few candidates but again, they have all suffered in one form or another to injuries or burn out. That is to be expected however and on the whole it is really pleasing to see so many youngsters being given their chance.
Take Anthony Patterson for example; in the past a young lad like him might only be able to get so far before hitting a glass ceiling and leaving the club without ever having a real opportunity to show what they are about. It can be hard to blood players when you are battling for promotion etc. I admit, and drafting somebody into a losing side may cause them more long term damage, but if the people in front are not doing the business anyway then I’d always be keen to see what those coming through can do.
There have been several instances in the past where potential was overlooked in favour of more established players, even if those faces had reached a plateau in their own careers, and if we are going to maximise the potential of our academy changing that mindset is vital.
It is probably easier to throw on a winger for the odd few minutes here or there so it is encouraging to see some faith being put into Patterson, and whilst his own run in the side has perhaps come a little too late for YPOTS there are still plenty of others in the mix.
The likes of Dennis Cirkin and Callum Doyle will come on leaps and bounds now they are tasting competitive action, and I cannot wait to see more of Niall Huggins when he is back from injury.
For now though, Dan Neil would get my vote. He has been a joy to watch at times and has looked good since returning to the side - it has been a while since we had a midfielder that plays the way he does, and of course it always helps when you’ve got somebody that supported the club doing their stuff.
If he is given the award it would be lovely to think it could be the first of many honours he receives as a Sunderland player.
Phil West says...
Despite the fact that our season has been turbulent and often chaotic, to put it mildly, I do think there are several strong candidates for player of the season. We have often struggled for form as a team, but there are plenty of players who have shone, despite the season not going the way we all hoped it would.
Ross Stewart has been an absolute revelation, with his goals and all-round play being crucial for us. He has evolved into a superb L1 striker, and it does feel like a matter of time before he is plying his trade at a higher level, and hopefully that is with us. The likes of Carl Winchester and Bailey Wright have also impressed consistently this season, the former whilst playing in a position that is not natural to him.
For me, though, the vote would go to Alex Pritchard, who recovered from a very slow start to his Sunderland career (hindered by injury and illness) to become a key component of the team. Many of last summer’s arrivals have been erratic, form-wise, but once he made his breakthrough, against Oxford, the ex-Norwich and Huddersfield man never looked back, and has evolved into one of the best players in the league when fit.
Pritchard is not the biggest or most physically dominant, but he possesses incredible technique, superb vision, and the ability to create space for himself and others. He rarely looks panicked on the ball, can pick passes at will, and exudes the kind of professionalism that many of his teammates have doubtless been inspired by. For years, we needed someone to take the creative burden from McGeady, and we finally have that player.
I also think Pritchard’s attitude has been superb.
He clearly understands the challenge of playing for a club like Sunderland, and has embraced that challenge, becoming one of the team’s go-to players and an inspirational on-field presence.
I get a sense that he is almost on a personal mission to ensure that promotion is delivered, and he will doubtless be desperate to get back into the action and make a significant contribution over the final weeks of the season.
For our young player of the season, I am choosing Dan Neil.
Yes, he has been inconsistent at times, and has a lot of improvement ahead of him, but for a player of such a young age to make such a big impact during his first season of senior football is quite an achievement, and I really hope we can retain his services beyond this summer.
When on form, Neil is an absolute joy to watch, and he will also be desperate to ensure this season ends on a positive note.
Ant Waterson says...
For the lads, my vote goes to Ross Stewart for obvious reasons.
As a few know by now, I also watch Sunderland Ladies, so I thought I would give you my player of the season for the lasses.
Neve Herron has really proven this season that she has the ability and the mindset to go all the way in the game. Herron has been highly thought of for a few years now since she burst on to the season with a worldie against Stoke back in 2019. Since then she has gone from strength to strength and has really shone for Sunderland as they have managed to secure Championship football for another season.
At the tender age of 18, Herron has quickly become vital to Sunderland. She scored our first home goal of the season against Blackburn at the SOL and was playing in an advanced midfield position. Injuries and the loss of Charlotte Potts led to Herron being moved to centre half and she was great there - an absolutely brilliant goalline clearance in the Conti Cup against Liverpool being a highlight.
Sunderland brought in centre half Abby Towers in February so Herron could move back into midfield. She has been playing in a quarterback style role just in front of the defence and has excelled in that role.
Three goals and an assist to her name in the four games she has played there. Her passing, tackling and leadership on the pitch have really come on this season. She reminds me of Sunderland legend Keira Ramshaw in that she’s young, fearless and a leader.
Herron showed a true moment of class last week against Watford when firstly she sprinted around thirty yards to congratulate Katy Watson who has just scored her first-ever lasses goal, then after a beautiful headed goal of her own - a special moment from a very special player.