Sunderland must fight off Champions League sides to keep Costel Pantilimon

Dick Advocaat
Dick Advocaat
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Seb Larsson was voted Sunderland Player of the Year with Lee Cattermole and Costel Pantilimon in second and third place respectively, and I wouldn’t disagree with those three being Sunderland’s stand-out performers.

But I’d go for a different order, with Pantilimon my top man followed by Cattermole and Larsson in third place.

Costel Pantilmon

Costel Pantilmon

There isn’t a lot between the three of them, but Pantilimon gets my vote as he’s rarely had a bad game and from his very first appearance at Crystal Palace, I’ve been convinced he’s the real deal and the one Sunderland player who wouldn’t be out of place in a Champions League team.

He’s one of those goalkeepers who have a presence about them, his sheer size can be intimidating and allows him to dominate his 18-yard area.

My one worry is his form can’t have gone unnoticed by top clubs, both here and abroad, but if big money is offered, then those bids have got to be turned down, as he’s far more important to Sunderland on the pitch than on the balance sheet.

My young player is Patrick van Aanholt, a full-back who loves to get forward and should improve from his experience this year.

My one worry is his form can’t have gone unnoticed by top clubs, both here and abroad, but if big money is offered, then those bids have got to be turned down, as he’s far more important to Sunderland on the pitch than on the balance sheet.

He still has things to learn defensively, where sometimes he can be caught out of position, but that’s nothing that time and a good coach shouldn’t be able to put right.

His attitude looks good and he’s lightning quick, being one of the few players at the club with genuine pace, and if he develops the way I hope he should, he can nail down that left-back spot for years to come.

The best performance from an opposition player I’ve seen this season was Sergio Aguero, who was unplayable in City’s 4-1 win at the Stadium of Light.

When a world class player is at the top of his game, there’s not a lot you can do to keep him quiet and the Sunderland defenders couldn’t get near him that night with his intelligent movement and clinical finishing.

As a Sunderland fan, it was painful to see Aguero tear us apart, but at the same time, it was a privilege to see such a high level performance.

Any win over our nearest and dearest is usually the highlight of any season, so my favourite game has to be one of the derby victories, although in terms of importance, the win at Everton shouldn’t be underestimated.

However, for sheer joy the home win over Newcastle was my most enjoyable 90 minutes of the season, with a wonder goal, three precious points and a deafening atmosphere created by special fans.

Even Thierry Henry covering the game for Sky was raving about it and if there’s been a better atmosphere at any Premier League match this season, I’d be very surprised.

Dick Advocaat deserves huge credit and his survival bonus.

More often than not, he’s got his tactics and team selection right, but I think his main achievement has been restoring belief and morale when it was on the floor; convincing the players to buy into his vision.

The prime example is Jermain Defoe – an out-an-out goalscorer who was played out of position without complaint, doing a job for the team that really didn’t suit him.

No striker whose paid to score goals and is judged on their scoring record wants to operate just in front of the left-back, but Defoe has done just that, sacrificing himself for the good of the team and to do that, you’ve got to believe in the man calling the shots.