Sunderland’s Premier League status remains firmly in the balance.
But away from the drama of the relegation run-in, the award season is once again upon us. And with Sunderland Supporters Association’s Player of the Year set to be unveiled next week, reporters Chris Young and Richard Mennear have their say on who should be crowned the stand-out performer of 2015-16:
At the midway point of the season, it was inconceivable to consider anyone other than Yann M’Vila for the Sunderland Player of the Year crown.
The on-loan Ruben Kazan man was near immaculate during those first few months of the season; Sunderland’s one, consistent shining light, who never showed any trepidation in adapting to the Premier League.
M’Vila was rightly on a collision course to succeed Seb Larsson as POTY. The only question mark was whether Sunderland could keep the Frenchman at the Stadium of Light when his loan expired.
But M’Vila has clearly not been as dominant in this second half of the campaign, with fatigue stemming from a lack of games over recent years a principal factor.
That has opened the door for other contenders.
Patrick van Aanholt has almost been as good since Christmas as he was bad beforehand, while January signings Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchhoff have made such a colossal impression on the side, despite the brevity of their Sunderland careers.
Yet for me, the reason why Sunderland still have a prayer of remaining in the Premier League is the 13 goals from Jermain Defoe – the best haul from a Black Cats player since Darren Bent.
Defoe has never complained at the often thankless task of operating as a lone striker, or the fruitless hoofs upfield that he has had to challenge for.
Defoe remains Sunderland’s ace in the pack over relegation rivals Norwich and Newcastle, and netting double figures for a side lying third bottom is no mean feat.
Whatever happens over the course of the next month, the 2015-16 campaign won’t be fondly remembered by supporters.
If Sunderland plummet into the Championship and miss out on the bumper £100million television deal then fans will be looking to wipe this sorry season from their memories.
If Sam Allardyce does manage to steer the club out of the relegation mire then it will, of course, be a major cause for celebration.
But supporters wouldn’t look back on the season with glee. It would just be sheer relief they again managed to pull if off.
There has, though, been some shining lights this season:
Yann M’Vila’s form has dipped recently but he excelled in central midfield in the opening months.
Patrick van Aanholt has totally transformed his season around from terrace boo-boy to one of the first names on the team sheet.
Lamine Kone has made an instant impact, while fellow January signing Jan Kirchhoff has almost as many man of the match awards as Jermain Defoe has Premier League goals this term.
For me though, there can be only one winner. Step forward Defoe.
Kirchhoff was a very close second for me but if Sunderland are to stay up then it is Defoe’s goals that will prove the difference.
Five contenders for the player of the year award:
Jermain Defoe: Sunderland are far from a one-man team but the 33-year-old former England striker has been a leading light this campaign – scoring 16 goals.
Defoe has netted 13 in the Premier League and a hat-trick in the Capital One Cup win over Exeter City.
Yann M’Vila: The 25-year-old was Dick Advocaat’s best bit of business last summer, joining Sunderland on a season-long loan from Ruben Kazan.
His form has dipped since the turn of the year but there is no doubt M’Vila, who has made 32 appearances, has still been one of Sunderland’s most consistent performers.
Lamine Kone: The 27-year-old joined Sunderland from Lorient for £5million in January and it has proved to be a shrewd piece of business by Sam Allardyce. The no-nonsense defender quickly established himself as a first team regular alongside John O’Shea and more recently Younes Kaboul, helping shore up a leaky defence.
Patrick van Aanholt: Mocked and maligned in the opening months of the season, the Dutch left-back has transformed his season and turned around his Sunderland career under Allardyce.
His forward play has always been his biggest asset – he has scored three times – but he has improved the defensive side of his game and was rewarded with an international recall.
Jan Kirchhoff: One of the stand-out January signings at just £750,000, Kirchhoff endured a nightmare debut at White Hart Lane but has since gone on to be a key player for Allardyce.
Playing in the holding midfield role, he has been key at breaking up play and getting Sunderland on the attack.
Against Norwich he made five tackles, won possession nine times and made 40 passes - all team-high totals.