Best and worst buy? Biggest flop and unsung hero? Sunderland’s season under the microscope

Jason Steele has been a  disappointment in goal since signing from Blackburn
Jason Steele has been a disappointment in goal since signing from Blackburn
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With Sunderland rooted to the foot of the Championship, few have come out of the campaign so far with much credit.

Simon Grayson left Preston North End to replace David Moyes, but the Yorkshireman lasted a mere four months before he was sacked.

There has been criticism aimed at owner Ellis Short and chief executive Martin Bain from fed-up and frustrated supporters, while the players have become accustomed to chants of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’.

There have been some highlights, namely Lewis Grabban, who has picked up where Jermain Defoe left off, the on-loan striker scoring eight goals in 13 games.

With a third of the campaign gone, SAFC writers Phil Smith and Richard Mennear examine the flops and unsung heroes of the season so far and the best and worst summer buys.


Biggest flop of the season:

Simon Grayson moved quickly to bring in two loanees from Everton and, of the pair, Brendan Galloway looked to be the one who would form a key part of his best XI. He had struggled to get a place at West Brom, but given it was a similar story under Tony Pulis for now Bayern Munich star Serge Gnabry, that didn’t seem too great a concern.

Tyias Browning had featured little under Grayson but has been excellent, aside from that surprise error against Nottingham Forest.

Galloway’s positioning has been suspect and targeted whenever he has been in the side.

Unsung hero:

Bryan Oviedo had a slow start to the season due to injury and international commitments, initially unconvincing in both a wing-back and left-wing berth. Once Grayson settled on a back four and Oviedo as his first-choice left-back, he has been a model of consistency both at the back and going forward.

Of Sunderland’s Premier League cohort, Oviedo is one of the few to shine at this lower level and his presence has at least solved one of the many problems.

Best buy:

Aiden McGeady started superbly, but, in recent weeks, has seemingly been dragged down by his team’s travails, losing the potency of his delivery and giving the ball away too easily.

With that in mind it is hard to look past Lewis Grabban. Sunderland are paying just a fraction of his wages and without his composure and finishing the situation would look far worse.

One suspects Grayson still regrets narrowly missing out on the rapid Max Gradel from the same club, Bournemouth, but Grabban could prove to be a saving grace.

Worst buy:

Sunderland’s woes in goal have been a major problem this season and the uncertainty has not helped the attempts to improve defensive organisation.

With that in mind. Jason Steele has been a disappointment, though the same could be said of James Vaughan up front.

The work ethic of both is undoubtedly excellent, but the performances so far have not matched.

It is ironic that given Sunderland’s limited spend, their two most expensive acquisitions have made the least impact.

Player who deserves a chance under new boss:

Josh Maja’s return to fitness will hopefully be the start of his senior career at Sunderland. He was outstanding in pre-season, a livewire with a presence and quality of decision-making rare to see in an 18-year-old. Alongside Duncan Watmore, he can inject some real pace and flair into the squad.


Biggest flop of the season:

There are several contenders for this category.

Summer loan signing Brendan Galloway must be up there. He hasn’t featured for the first team since the start of September, the 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United.

Didier Ndong and Lee Cattermole have both disappointed.

Ndong brings energy but his final ball still needs to improve and his shooting leaves an awful lot to be desired. Cattermole has been overpowered in midfield too many times.

For me, though, it has to go to another of the experienced players, Lamine Kone. Has a value of a player ever nose-dived as much as his? Worth upwards of £18million last summer, Sunderland would be lucky to get a quarter of that fee now.

With his size, physique and presence he should be dominating this division, on his day one of the best in the Championship.

But he has flopped and is now out for 10 weeks through injury, he may already have played his last game for Sunderland.

Unsung hero:

Bryan Oviedo is a contender after firmly establishing himself.

Defensively sound, Oviedo also brings a welcome attacking threat and eye for a pass down the left-hand flank, linking up well with McGeady.

Adam Matthews also deserves an honourable mention for turning round his Sunderland career. His days on Wearside looked numbered after being shipped out on loan to Bristol City. But he has come back and been one of the better defenders, though, granted, the bar has been set low. Matthews deserves credit for his tenacity.

Best buy:

Sunderland are bottom with Lewis Grabban’s goals. Just imagine how far adrift they would be without them – his goals helping earn six of the 10 points so far. Signed on a season-long loan deal, it has proved a shrewd piece of business despite missing a chunk of the season with a hamstring injury.

Worst buy:

Sunderland’s summer business was done on the cheap, so there have been no expensive mistakes. But big questions marks still hang over some.

James Vaughan is a grafter but has struggled badly for goals, while Jason Steele has been a disappointment since arriving for £500,000 from Blackburn Rovers.

The goalkeeping department hasn’t quite looked the same since Jordan Pickford and Vito Mannone departed, with neither Robbin Ruiter or Steele claiming the No.1 spot as their own.

Ruiter was a free and was much improved against Middlesbrough last time out. A run of games will do him the world of good.

Steele has looked far from convincing, especially at set pieces.

Player who deserves a chance under new boss:

Josh Maja will come into the new manager’s thinking when he returns to full training if his pre-season form is anything to go by.

He was Sunderland’s most consistent performer in the summer before injury struck when he was on the cusp of a first team chance. The 18-year-old will be like a new signing.

Lynden Gooch has made 13 first team appearances but has been in and out of the side and will be looking for more consistency.

Aside from those two, Matthews deserves a run at right-back given a string of poor performances from Billy Jones.