Joseph Tulip says…
In my time following Sunderland, the benchmark in terms of left wing prowess will always be Allan ‘Magic’ Johnston, but there are caveats to that statement.
Johnston never had the chance to establish himself in the Premier League for Sunderland, after two sublime seasons in the late 1990s, but I’ve no doubt that the Scottish international would’ve made the step up had he not fallen out of favour as he sought a move to Rangers in the summer of 1999.
He was also one half of a left-sided double act for Sunderland during that period, with Mickey Gray, a very good left winger in his own right, reborn as an attacking left back to overlap and support Johnston in forming a formidable partnership.
In later years, we were blessed to see other left-sided players represent Sunderland in the Premier League.
Stefan Schwarz and Bolo Zenden were established stars in their own right; Andy Reid had a cultured left foot, and Stéphane Sessègnon was a match for any top flight defence on his day, running teams ragged with his pace and dazzling footwork.
Kieran Richardson is also worth a mention for his contributions, most notably for his free kick against the Mags, as is Kevin Kilbane, who I always thought was harshly treated after a difficult start in red and white. Also, who can forget the entertainment provided by the mercurial Julio Arca and Martin Smith?
So, where does this all leave Clarke?
He’s younger than Johnston was when he was excelling in the second tier, and despite support from good left backs, is more of a rising star in his own right.
Clarke can take people on at will. He runs all day and is now showing that he can beat the full back on the outside as well as cutting inside onto his right foot.
We don’t know how high Clarke’s ceiling is, but he seems to get better every year and is a huge asset to Sunderland.
Johnston is one of my all time favourites, but Clarke is in a similar position to the Scotsman when he failed to move into the top flight with Sunderland after promotion all those years ago.
Let’s hope Clarke gets to the promised land, and in the red and white of Sunderland!
Kelvin Beattie says…
The game has changed so much since I first started watching Sunderland in 1966.
It’s probably fair to say that the majority of left wingers I’ll mention were mainly left footers who would generally go outside their marker, hit the byline and cross. Variations were those who could use their right foot in order to mix it up a bit.
George ‘Bullet’ Mulhall had a real burst of pace and a rocket of a shot (hence his nickname). He had a great understanding with inside forward Johnny Crossan and scored as well as created many goals with his crossing and slick passing.
Dennis Tueart was a two footed wonderkid when I first saw him play in 1968.
He had really good ball control and a smooth way of covering the ground with the ball at his feet, and with a record of fifty eight goals in 208 games, he could score as well as create.
He had a good understanding with Ian Porterfield and his interplay with fellow forward Billy Hughes is something I most certainly would highlight to the current coaching regime for Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts.
Stan Cummins could more accurately be described as a forward, but the little wizard, although two footed and as comfortable cutting in from the right as he was taking the outside lane on the left, had a thunderous left foot shot.
His twelve goals in 159 games supports my view that he left a lot of goals on the park, whilst Nick Pickering was as comfortable at left back as he was on the left wing. He was a lovely crosser and passer of the ball and a player who covered the ground smoothly and rapidly.
Those of us lucky enough to witness the emergence of Kieron Brady in 1989/1990 would probably tell you that he had the potential to be one of our best ever left footed forwards.
His ability to beat his man and pop up anywhere on the pitch was typical of this entertainer, and his performance from the bench against West Ham in March 1990 was a thing of consumate beauty. Sadly, a poorly diagnosed vascular condition curtailed his career.
Fast forward to Allan ‘Magic’ Johnston, whose wing play and partnership with Mickey Gray was always worth the entrance fee. He should’ve played more than ninety three games (scoring 20 goals) but he infamously crossed Peter Reid and that was that!
An honourable mention goes to Leighton James as the player we loved to hate when appearing for the opposition, but who we took to our hearts during his relatively short stay with us during Alan Durban’s tenure.
Two footed and an excellent dead ball specialist, he had lost a bit of his pace, but still had plenty of ways of beating his marker. He was a key player in hauling us away from relegation in 1982/1983 and 1983/1984.
Throw in Martin Smith and Aiden McGeady and we might easily feel that along with Clarke, we’ve been royally entertained and served on our left wing.
Let me tell you though, there are plenty of our older supporters ready to tell you that if Clarke can reach the heights of Len Shackleton’s career with us, he really will be a legend!
Mark Wood says…
There are some outstanding candidates from my time as a Sunderland fan, although the first obvious shout was around so early that I remember little of him in a red and white shirt.
Dennis Tueart did return often enough to make me aware of exactly what he had to offer, with direct running, great close control and scoring ability too.
Later there was Leighton James, who came to us when he was pushing thirty years of age but consistently had the beating of his man, and coupled with super accurate crossing, created many a goal for our strikers.
Allan Johnston is the obvious standout candidate, who loved to cut in for a shot, but as everyone else will want to pick him, I’m going to mention a more recent player Aiden McGeady.
Brought in by Simon Grayson at the start of the 2017/2018 season, he was the one quality player in that side who also looked like he actually cared and in League One, he showed that he was a cut above with his outstanding wing play, goals, and creativity.
He was treated miserably by Phil Parkinson but over a four-year period he was probably our best player.
The standout performance I’d pick was against Doncaster in 2021, when ‘Geads’ got out of bed and decided that full back Brad Halliday was going to be on toast.
He absolutely destroyed him that afternoon and laid on four headed goals for Charlie Wyke. He’s associated with a depressing era of our history, but that’s no fault of his own and I think we all remember him well.