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Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final

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Talking Points: Who deserves a new contract & which loan players should we sign permanently?

Following Sunderland’s promotion back to the Championship, Matty Crichton discusses some of the key decisions that Alex Neil will have to make!

Photo by Jacques Feeney/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

After an uncertain start, Alex Neil turned out to be exactly what Sunderland needed!

Back in February, Sunderland flirted with the idea of rehiring Roy Keane, in a managerial appointment process that saw the club gift away six points and really lose track of the automatics.

At the time of those two losses, it felt like we were repeating our usual process of hire, sack, hire and then decide “well they need a full season to properly achieve something.”

When Neil was appointed, I would say the mood was flat given the nostalgia of a potential Keane return, which in truth probably overshadowed the fact we had actually employed an ex-Premier League manager that had won the play-offs twice.

After failing to win his first three matches, Neil then successfully managed to solidify Sunderland’s defence, but also turn us into a side with a tremendous habit of giving everything till the end, resulting in many late goals.

Along the way, he has made some incredibly brave calls too. Sticking with Patterson over Hoffmann was a big call. Switching Dennis Cirkin to a left-centre-back. resurrecting Lynden Gooch who looked finished. Sticking with Corry Evans as captain and continuing to play him through bad spells.

There were many times early on when Neil wasn’t afraid to do the unattractive thing to ensure the bigger picture could occur. Decisions such as dropping one of our most creative players in Dan Neil, knowing that we needed to solidify the midfield.

Over time, Alex Neil has built the trust of the Sunderland fans that he will make the correct decisions to achieve the end goal.

A team that conceded four, five and six in single games across the season ended the season conceding six in 10 games and just once throughout the play-off campaign.

It is clear to see the improvement that Neil has made to this team and I think his patience and bravery are too fantastic qualities that have led to his success so far on Wearside.

It seems that we have found a composed individual with the courage to deal with the absolute chaos that is managing Sunderland AFC.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final
Alex Neil achieved his third promotion via the play-offs in management, having previously won with Norwich and Hamilton.
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Anthony Patterson was immense again and deserves mass credit considering he started the season as number three!

It is fairly common in football for a second-choice goalkeeper to displace his main rival, but for a third choice that was originally loaned out two leagues below, now that is special!

After two consecutive shaky performances against Wycombe and Lincoln in January where he conceded six, it was easy to write Patterson off as not good enough just yet, but boy has he bounced back fighting to prove everyone wrong.

Since he was preferred to Thorban Hoffmann, Patterson has kept nine clean sheets in 19 matches and his improvement has been incredible in such a short space of time.

Following initial worries concerning his handling and ability to command his six-yard box, Patterson was a calm head throughout against Wycombe.

He made a crucial one-vs-one save against Sam Vokes and failed to spill anything throughout the match.

The 22-year-old has started to ooze confidence under Alex Neil and now thoroughly deserves to begin pre-season as Sunderland’s number one goalkeeper.

It was fantastic to see that one of the Sunderland academy players that stuck with the club during our demise has reaped the rewards for working hard for an opportunity lower down the pyramid.

Patterson is a brilliant example that young players can benefit massively from going out on loan, but also that even if they start poorly, they can turn their form around and succeed.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium
Anthony Patterson made 11 appearances at Notts County earlier this season before returning to Sunderland.
Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

Have Bailey Wright and Lynden Gooch played their way into receiving new contracts?

Following the reported news from Alan Nixon that Lee Burge, Aiden McGeady, Arbenit Xhemajli and Jordan Willis will all depart Sunderland next month, it appears the club are in talks with both Bailey Wright and Lynden Gooch about extending their stays.

Despite arguably being Sunderland’s most consistent defender throughout our time in League One, Wright began this year as Sunderland’s final substitute to tighten things up and he spent the summer linked with a move to promotion rivals Wigan.

Following our switch to a back three, Wright worked his way back into the starting eleven and in the season half of the season, he has been absolutely instrumental.

The Aussie’s post-match interview after Sheffield Wednesday covered in blood symbolised perfectly his part in adding some bite and toughness to a defence that was simply far too easy to crack.

For me, Wright 100% deserves a new one-year deal to continue his tenure on Wearside and to prove he can still compete at Championship level.

Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi Final 2nd Leg
Bailey Wright has started every single match since Alex Neil took over as manager.
Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

With Lynden Gooch, he is Sunderland’s James Milner. A player with bags of passion who whilst won’t ever be the main man has an incredible work rate and whose versatility is a dream for any manager.

There was a part in the season where Gooch looked finished on Wearside, other clubs came knocking in January, but the ex-American international stayed to fight for his place, ending the season as a clear first-choice at right-wing-back.

Although Gooch himself previously stated his desires to play further forward following a double-figure season in front of goal under Phil Parkinson, I believe wing-back is the perfect position for him.

His strength, pace and endless work rate are all traits required for that position, plus he is capable of beating players and delivering quality crosses when his confidence levels are there.

Even if Alex Neil does not see the 26-year-old as a permanent starter in the Championship, does the club really want to spend money on a replacement when we have someone in the building who loves the club and can play everywhere but centre-half?

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final
Lynden Gooch played in five different positions for Sunderland across this season.
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Sunderland will lose the likes of Nathan Broadhead, Callum Doyle and Jack Clarke - which of our loan players should we sign permanently?

For the first time in our tenure in League One, Sunderland finally utilised the loan market effectively, but which players are worth keeping?

Let’s start with our German duo, Thorben Hoffmann and Leon Dajaku. Both showed flashes of potential stars, but neither were not consistent enough to keep their places.

There is an argument to be made that both are young, showed signs of great potential and it was their first season in a new country. They both could be players the club could develop and sign to compete with others if Neil sees the potential.

Having said that, their exclusions towards the latter stages of the season do not read well.

Sunderland vs Ipswich Town Sky Bet League 1
Thorben Hoffmann played 23 matches for Sunderland, keeping eight clean sheets.
Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Next, you have Callum Doyle, one of the most technically gifted 18-year-old defenders Sunderland have ever seen (bettered by Jonny Evans), but who ended the season out of the starting side.

The pros of signing Doyle are that he has immense potential and is the perfect modern centre-back in his ability to distribute the ball, but the main con is that Dennis Cirkin has been playing in that position, a player the club spent money on, so would the club go and spend on another young player in that position?

It is dependent on the formation Neil wishes to play, but Doyle was a victim of being overplayed by Lee Johnson, which did lead to his decline in form and the losing of his place. Regardless of that, we all saw a brilliant player in him at such a young age.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium
After starting the season together on the left side of defence, Callum Doyle and Dennis Cirkin ended battling for the same spot.
Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

Moving onto Jack Clarke, one goal and four assists did not exactly set the world alight, but his pace and dribbling ability were a class above League One level.

With Clarke, he has a year left on his Spurs deal, so it is all down to whether Neil believes he can develop the 21-year-old into the player many expected him to be, it is all about improving his end product.

The main issue here will be that it is well known that Daniel Levy is incredibly difficult to negotiate with, so it is unlikely Sunderland would get any kind of favourable deal.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final
Jack Clarke’s sole Sunderland goal came in a 3-1 victory over Fleetwood.
Photo by Federico Maranesi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Lastly, the man who nearly averaged one goal per two games, Nathan Broadhead. If only he had kept fit for the full season, Sunderland would surely have achieved automatics.

There is only one question to be asked here and it is straight for the medical team - are the Welshman’s injury issues too significant to make it worth signing him permanently?

Technically he is excellent and his finishing was superb, his hamstring injury against Arsenal absolutely derailed our season almost.

He has not played much football for a 24-year-old, so Sunderland have to be 100% sure with this. The talent is simply unquestionable, but how often is that talent available?

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