Chris Young: Wes Brown will be most fondly remembered among released Sunderland players

Wes Brown

Wes Brown

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By necessity, Sam Allardyce was ready to be ruthless when he considered dramatic changes to his squad on the eve of the January transfer window.

Sunderland required fresh blood... desperately. But the club’s bloated wage bill left Allardyce needing to offload several first-teamers if he was to free up sufficient salary funds to bring in the recruits who could make a tangible difference to an ailing cause.

No-one was off limits and Allardyce ultimately took a butcher’s knife to the squad list by offloading Steven Fletcher, Danny Graham, Costel Pantilimon, Sebastian Coates and Jordi Gomez.

Pantilimon was the only member of that quintet who genuinely raised an eyebrow or two, yet Allardyce still had to find new homes for players whose pay packet barely matched their contribution to the cause.

Prior to the turn of the year, Wes Brown also came under consideration for the chop, particularly after the 36-year-old had endured a harrowing first appearance of the season in the 6-2 rout at Everton.

Sunderland clearly required a new central defender, and the previous summer’s decision to extend Brown’s contract by a further 12 months - even as a back-up option - remained strange.

But the ex-England international’s wealth of experience and know-how sprang to the fore when Sunderland dearly needed him at the start of 2016.

His contribution to wins over Aston Villa and Swansea was crucial. Anything less than victory in those two games would have propelled Allardyce’s side out of survival contention.

That was what led to Brown being offered a contract extension in the first place; a chance to fill in for the odd game here and there, rather than throwing his toys out the pram at the limits of such a fringe role. He just wanted to play and help.

There was no surprise at the former Manchester United man’s Sunderland exit coming yesterday. Let’s face it, there were no real decisions for Allardyce to make over the retained list.

But the end of Brown’s Sunderland career is a milestone after he has been a mainstay of the defence for the last five years alongside fellow Old Trafford old boy John O’Shea.

Brown has had a host of injury problems - particularly the knee lay-off under Martin O’Neill which threatened to end his career - but when fit, he has been an excellent servant during his 76 Premier League appearances in red and white.

Certainly, at just £1million, Sunderland have blown the cash in far, far more idiotic ways over recent years.

Brown should be remembered fondly for his time at the Stadium of Light. He’s certainly likely to be savoured more than either Fletcher or Graham, whose Sunderland careers effectively ended when they were loaned out in January.

Effort was never an issue for Graham and his fortuitous goal at Everton last season proved crucial to Dick Advocaat’s side beating the drop.

But the ex-Swansea man never convinced that he was up to the required standard, certainly not justifying the £5m that O’Neill shelled out in January 2013.

Fletcher unquestionably had the talent that Graham lacked, but the application was far too sporadic.

There were spells when the Scottish international really looked the part, scored goals and led the line with aplomb. There were others, when he just went missing.

It was a frustrating return on the £12m investment of a striker who genuinely had the potential to live up to such a lofty price tag.

The departures of short-term third-choice keeper Steve Harper and flop defender Valentin Roberge - whose contract was terminated early last month - were mere formalities.

However, it would be no surprise if Allardyce looks to keep Harper involved in some capacity on his backroom team. He was regularly a pair of eyes in the stands at away games throughout the second half of the campaign.

Collectively, the wages of those released adds up to a tidy sum though.

It gives Allardyce a bit of room to manoeuvre in overhauling this squad to a more capable level.