Revealed! Which Sunderland stars have played the most minutes this season – with surprise at No 1

George Honeyman.
George Honeyman.
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When Simon Grayson weighed up his first competitive starting XI for Sunderland in August, much of it picked itself.

There was one big surprise, however, with George Honeyman named in the side to face Derby.

Honeyman had been a regular in pre-season but without looking like he was set for a pivotal role.

As it was, Grayson saw his energy and discipline as perfect for the right-wing role in a 4-4-2 formation.

Most importantly, he was a player who could be trusted to carry out instructions and his role gave Aiden McGeady the freedom, on the other flank, to roam as he pleased.

Sunderland were good that night against Derby, and you do wonder whether Grayson looks back and regrets moving away from the simplicity of his set-up in those early games.

He had privately decided to take Sunderland back to basics, but, as he had done at former club Preston, his pragmatic approach saw him eventually rattle through a number of systems, often during games.

Honeyman was so often the sticking plaster, playing every position from right wing-back to, only on the rarest of occasions, his favoured No 10 position.

Sunderland have failed to establish any real identity on the pitch this season and, with both Grayson and successor Chris Coleman searching desperately for the solution, Honeyman has often been the man shoehorned into an unfamiliar role.

In that sense, he is a manager’s player – one who does not win so many plaudits but racks up the minutes because he is trusted implicitly.

It is little surprise, then, that he has emerged to play more Championship minutes than any other Sunderland player this season.

On Saturday, if was put to Coleman that Honeyman had emerged from the defeat at QPR with credit, given the way he had pushed the team forward after losing sent-off keeper Jason Steele and tried to force openings in the final third.

His running was relentless and dizzying, as it always is.

Coleman was beyond effusive in his response, saying that Honeyman was 100% the kind of player Sunderland needed to build around, no matter what league they find themselves in next season.

Coleman’s comments raised eyebrows and, certainly, the quality of Honeyman’s attacking output has been wildly inconsistent this season.

Coleman, of course, pointed out that he is yet to reach 50 games in senior football and perhaps that composure will come with experience.

That he sits top of the list of minutes played underlines how badly Sunderland rebuilt their squad this summer.

Flick through the top 10 of appearance-makers and it neatly tells a tale of a squad lacking balance and consistency, searching for a cohesive identity.

Both Grayson and Coleman have been relieved that Honeyman has been there to try and fill some of the glaring gaps.