Gorgeous goals and memorable moments '“ Sunderland's early season award winners revealed
Sunderland have much to do if they are to achieve their ambitions but there have already been some standout moments this season.
Massive travelling support, a glut of goals, and some disappointments along the way.
Here, Phil Smith dishes out his season awards so far as the campaign pauses just over a quarter of the way through.
It’s hard to look past Chris Maguire.
Jack Ross has had to chop and change his team due to injuries and in some cases, a lack of match fitness.
Maguire has ploughed through the first 12 games without pausing for breath and only against Oxford did his performance drop. His response to that reflected well on his character and determination as a player.
In recent weeks he has been outstanding, contributing in the final third and showing a real work-rate as well.
His emergence as a new cult hero for fans is the icing on the cake.
BEST YOUNG PLAYER
Just when you thought his goalscoring feats couldn’t get any more impressive, Jack Ross last week revealed that Josh Maja has been battling an ankle problem.
It is clear that Maja has areas of his game to work on, and his contribution to open play can vary.
But the quality of his finishing and his intelligence near the goal is remarkable for someone so young.
No wonder Manchester City and Spurs are keen.
Grounded and humble, the 19-year-old is only going to get better.
He may not be the quickest but as his mentor Jermain Defoe showed, the first yard is in the brain and that is the most important yard of all.
SIGNING OF THE SEASON
One of the most pleasing aspects of the campaign so far is that just about every signing has contributed.
Even those who have struggled on occasions, like Alim Ozturk, have battled and found a way to contribute.
Some have been more prominent than others, with the likes of Jack Baldwin, Tom Flanagan and the aforementioned Maguire already marking themselves out as vital players.
Arguably the single biggest summer upgrade, however, has been in goal.
Jon McLaughlin has not only stopped giving away points, as goalkeeping errors did for much of last season, but actively started winning them.
He was steady to begin with but in recent games his form has reached another level entirely.
Add composed distribution to the mix and you have a goalkeeper probably good enough for the next level, too.
That Sunderland got him for free beggars belief.
One of Jack Ross’ first calls as manager and already one of his most important.
GOAL OF THE SEASON
There have been some fine individual efforts, but the one that instantly springs to mind is a gorgeous, sweeping move from defence to attack at Luton Town.
Sunderland could easily have gone long on the tight Kenilworth Road pitch but instead they played out, building up nicely and pulling the host out of shape.
Then it was down to two moments of real quality from the two youngsters named in the Sky Sports EFL team of the season so far.
Lynden Gooch picked out Josh Maja with a tremendous reverse pass and the finish, on his weaker foot, was as composed as you’ll ever see.
Sunderland’s football is improving and while there is much to be done, this was an early indication of what they can do.
MOMENT OF THE SEASON
Lynden Gooch’s glorious header against Charlton Athletic was an extraordinary moment of catharsis.
The story could not have gone much better.
Sunderland were woeful in the early stages but the bumper crowd stuck with their team, who responded and delivered in style.
It marked a remarkable turnaround in atmosphere and unity, the Stadium of Light an asset again.
But one hopes that Jon McLaughlin’s penalty save, and the Tom Flanagan tackle that followed, proves to be a major moment.
Sunderland were staring down the barrel of another self-inflicted blow but the response of their team-mates, both at the time and when the final whistle blew, showed just how important it was.
Both were mobbed before 20 minutes of stoic defending ensued.
It is that resilience which wins promotion.
BIGGEST ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
After the Bradford game, Lee Cattermole said it himself.
“We’re making things so hard for ourselves,” he said.
“Any time there’s a dull moment in the game, we give a team an opportunity to get a foothold.
“We were so comfortable in the first half, we need to be more ruthless, get more used to winning games.”
Sunderland have shown their quality but not their ruthlessness.
More consistent defending and better discipline is an absolute necessity.
And while he is improving as his fitness gets better, it would be a major boost if Dylan McGeouch could capture his pre-season form.
In difficult moments he can dictate the tempo of the game, help his team win control and make opponents suffer.
The Black Cats still lack that poise at times.
THE JACK ROSS VERDICT
His job has been made difficult by injuries and a major summer overhaul, so it has been pleasing to see Ross find some consistency in selection and shape in recent weeks.
That will make a major difference to both the fluidity and quality of Sunderland’s football.
He deserves immense credit for the way he handled a tricky summer of speculation, and the relationship he developed with Lee Cattermole is reaping major dividends.
Players speak with genuine enthusiasm for the environment he has created, the quality of his preparation and the intensity of his training.
Substitutions have been pro-active, the football attacking.
He has also convinced a number of talented young players that he trusts them and that he can improve them as players.
That could be vital in the coming months.
So far, so good.
The Black Cats boss has said himself, however, that only promotion will be a success this season.
With that in mind, he will want to haul his team above the two points per game average and to the top of the table.
The platform he has built, however, is encouraging.