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Roker Roundtable: Who’s been your favourite Sunderland January signing?

Over the years, we’ve managed to attract some brilliant players to the Stadium of Light during the January window, and we asked our writers to choose their personal favourite!

Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Paddy Hayes says…

I’ll choose an obvious one.

A player that subsequently marred his reputation on Wearside during his second stint, but his contribution during his first spell with the club was invaluable both on and off the pitch...

That player is Jermain Defoe.

When he signed for the club in January 2015, after Toronto FC miraculously agreed to a swap deal for Jozy Altidore, there was certainly a sense of uncertainty around his acquisition. Bearing in mind the MLS has traditionally been a retirement home for fading European stars, was he over the hill at that stage?

Arguably as sharp in front of goal as he’d ever been, Defoe racked up 34 goals in 87 games, a brilliant feat considering he was playing for a side languishing around the foot of the table.

His goals undoubtedly helped to keep us up during the 2015/2016 season, and his record in the Tyne-Wear Derby was exceptional – he provided many Sunderland fans with a moment that Niall Quinn aptly described as ‘one they’re all gonna remember!’ with his volley against the Mags.

Defoe’s other poignant contribution was his treatment of and friendship with Bradley Lowery and his family.

He went above and beyond what was expected (perhaps a fair assessment of his entire first stint on Wearside), and demonstrated he’s very clearly a decent bloke.

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Defoe Mk1
Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Phil West says…

Our record in this particular transfer window has been quite chequered over the years.

Granted, we’ve unearthed some gems and players who’ve gone on to make a huge impact, but we’ve also been saddled with our fair share of duds, which is why I’m not choosing Laurens de Bock as the answer to this question.

With that in mind, and although it’s a tough call, I would pick Stephane Sessegnon as my personal favourite January signing. Indeed, it’s quite startling to think that 12 years have passed since he breezed into the Stadium of Light in what was one of Steve Bruce’s more successful forays into the market.

Simply put, Sess was a joy to watch, and he was one of the classiest and most skilful players I’ve seen in the red and white stripes.

Able to turn on a diamond and ease past opposing players without breaking sweat, he also had a keen eye for a goal and a range of passing that few Sunderland players have since been able to match. I always loved his attitude as well - he was confident but never came across as cocky, and he absolutely thrived in front of packed houses, either at home or away.

For an all-too-brief period during the second half of 2010/2011, we were able to call on the talents of Sessegnon and the equally mercurial Steed Malbranque. To have two playmakers of such quality in our ranks was a truly brilliant experience!

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Stoke City v Sunderland - Britannia Stadium Photo by Mike Egerton - PA Images via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says…

I’m going to go a bit left field for this and say Steve Agnew, who arrived in January 1995. There are probably a few more obvious choices if I am honest, but it was more the transfer itself that I look back on fondly, and of course, he was a very useful player for us once he’d signed.

Back then, the market was very different, and I don’t even think the January deadline was introduced until a number of years later. Fewer moves seemed to be made, particularly at Roker at this stage, so when they happened they felt like a novelty almost. And, because you didn’t have YouTube compilations or Football Manager breakdowns, there was a sense of the unknown sometimes, even with lads from the same division.

Without rolling news and social media the rumour mill was nowhere near as active as it is now either, and while SAFC have done well of late to keep things under wraps, stories do still slip out, and it spoils the surprise a bit. On-off sagas can become pretty tedious, leading to folk trying to fill the gaps and twisting about supposed heel dragging etc., whereas with Agnew the first I knew of it was when it had been sealed – and that is a lot better in my mind.

As for the announcement, there wasn’t any big reveal either or fanfare. News reached us at Monkwearmouth comp when somebody went up the shops at dinnertime and swiped one of those A-frame posters the Echo would put outside newsagents, and promptly stuck it one of the big windows on the stairwell. The next edition of the Roker Review then had a photo of him about to get on the bus for an away game, and that was it!

Don’t get me wrong, some of the videos the club puts together to welcome a new player are very good these days, but I do like to remember the innocence of that time. It probably sounds like the dark ages to younger fans, but I wonder if the old attitudes around spending and squad building were better in some ways, as now people fall into this trap of thinking you have to splash the cash all the time and become blasè about it sadly.

Anyway, I can feel myself becoming a bit ‘old man yells at the clouds,’ so I’ll come back to the actual question. Agnew had some good moments in a Sunderland shirt and played a part in helping us gain promotion the following season. It would be lovely if the same could be said of the 2023 intake.

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He’s got no hair, he’s got no hair, Agnew, Agnew, Agnew-new-new!
Photo by Aubrey Washington/EMPICS via Getty Images

Martin Wanless says...

It’s got to be Jonny Evans for me... twice! The first time around, Keano added Evans, Carlos Edwards and Danny Simpson to the team – all three quickly became regulars in a side that transformed overnight. While Simpson was steady and Edwards impressive, Evans was simply majestic. He led from the back, he managed to turn Nyron from comedic right back to a rock-solid centre half by his sheer presence and was absolutely pivotal in us winning the title that season. He made such an unbelievable difference and seemed to stroll through games with the assuredness of a defender ten years older.

Twelve months later, he arrived again – this time with the team struggling in the Premier League. And, again, Evans showed just what a class act he was – renewing his partnership with Nyron and guiding us to safety.

If you’re looking for a best-ever January signing, the fact that Evans gave us such a boost two Januarys in a row means he’s surely up there!

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Jonny Evans in his second spell at the club
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

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