Sunderland’s season under the microscope – our writers have their say on 2016-17 and the future

Sunderland midfielder Didier Ndong gives the most hope for the future, according to our writers.
Sunderland midfielder Didier Ndong gives the most hope for the future, according to our writers.
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It has been one of the worst seasons in memory, with plenty of lows and precious few highs.

With much uncertainty over the club’s future, the Echo has launched an end-of-season survey to get the fans’ verdict on what has happened and where Sunderland need to go next.

Adnan Januzaj was the biggest playing disappointment of the season.

Adnan Januzaj was the biggest playing disappointment of the season.

Here, our Sunderland writers Phil Smith and Richard Mennear give their verdict on some of the big issues.

A season of lows, but the worst point was…

PS: It is hard to look past the first home game of the season, when Sunderland were beaten by Middlesbrough and Moyes confirmed that he saw a relegation battle on the horizon.

The week previously, his side battled well against Manchester City in a 2-1 defeat, but when the team news dropped, it was clear another summer had been wasted.

Donald Love untested at right-back, John O’Shea forced to play defensive midfield. The developing Lamine Kone saga only underlined a disastrous start to a disastrous season.

RM: Middlesbrough away. The away fans had turned on David Moyes after watching a pathetic display.

Sunderland, at that stage, hadn’t been relegated and given what was at stake against their North East and relegation rivals the performance was the most disappointing.

The 2016-17 campaign really was a season of lows and this was rock bottom.

David Moyes’ biggest failure was…

PS: Recruitment. Not only did his signings fail to address Sunderland’s long-term lack of pace and creativity, they compounded them.

Financial constraints and a difficulty to attract targets did not help, but the lack of imagination in recruitment was alarming. The damage will take some time to undo.

RM: Failing to talk the club up. Two games in and David Moyes admitted Sunderland would be in a relegation battle.

He was right, of course, but that’s the last thing the fanbase wanted to hear so soon into the new campaign. Moyes was dealt a bad hand but he played it badly.

And his demeanour, while always honest and forthright, did him no favours.

The most disappointing signing was…

PS: Adnan Januzaj. Papy Djilobodji was, by some distance, the biggest mistake, but what made Januzaj’s poor form all the more infuriating was that the on-loan Manchester United man’s ability was so clear to see.

There were some superb displays, particularly at Selhurst Park, his awareness and dribbling on another level.

When Sunderland needed him most, however, he went missing.

Says so much that he still ended up with the most assists.

RM: A joint award between Adnan Januzaj and Papy Djilobodji.

Januzaj arrived with huge potential, but all Sunderland had to show for his season-long stint was one goal in return. A huge disappointment.

£8million summer signing Djilobodji fared no better either.

He only made 23 appearances and didn’t feature after being sent off against West Bromwich Albion in January.

The most frustrating thing about this season was…

PS: How much difference it would have made to the season is debatable, but the exclusion of Wahbi Khazri was at times farcical.

Khazri may have his flaws, but, in such a painfully predictable, one-paced side, he would surely have offered something different.

He will likely leave this summer having never really been tried in his favoured Number 10 role. A major waste.

RM: That it didn’t have to be this way. At the end of last season, Sunderland had a solid team, defensively sound with a clear attacking threat.

It only needed four or five key signings to turn Sunderland into a mid-table side. Injuries didn’t help, but recruitment was poor.

The failure to land a striker in either August or January proved fatal. Jermain Defoe was always going to need help, but the cavalry never arrived.

The player who has given me the most hope for next season is…

PS: Didier Ndong. Still raw and can go through spells in games when his ball retention isn’t good enough.

Yet his energy has never dipped and he battled through some of the worst parts of the season to come out with credit.

If the new manager can utilise his pressing abilities well, he will be a major asset.

RM: Didier Ndong. Provided he stays. The club record signing struggled for consistency in the early stages, but he turned a corner at Christmas and became the most consistent outfield player.

It is easy to forget how young the midfielder is, Ndong doesn’t turn 23 until June 17, but he has real potential.

He was always hungry for the ball, willing to do the hard work and provided energy and drive to a one-paced Sunderland midfield.

The best goal was…

PS: Victor Anichebe v Bournemouth. The sheer power, both in the way he bounced off the defender and the strike into the roof of the net, was awesome.

It sparked a run of form for the Nigerian that gave Sunderland hope (and three more wins in November and December), but, as so often this season, it ultimately came to nothing.

RM: Sunderland goals this season were few and far between, only 29 scored in 38 Premier League appearances.

Jermain Defoe scored 15 of them and I’m going for one of his as my goal of the season. His strike at home against Hull City had everything.

A superb touch, close control, quick feet and a clinical finish. It was typical Defoe and it was just a shame his goals dried up in the closing months.

The thing I want to see most in the next manager is….

PS: Fire. The Stadium of Light dimmed last season as team and manager brought the morale of the fanbase down to a new low.

No great comebacks, no late goals, no stirring performances.

The new manager absolutely must give the fans a side they want to come down to watch. Some charisma wouldn’t go amiss on that front.

RM: Transfer acumen. Recruitment this summer will be absolutely vital.

Funds are going to be tight, the crippling level of debt and high wage bill makes that inevitable.

A solid contacts book and ability to act fast will be key for when Sunderland do finally appoint.

A huge summer awaits the new boss.

One player I would love to see Sunderland sign….

PS: Chelsea’s Izzy Brown. Likely to be available on loan again this summer, Brown – who has had loan stints at Rotherham and Huddersfield in the Championship this season – would make a major difference to Sunderland’s front line.

He can play off either flank, off the main striker or up front if needs be. Quick, with an eye for goal, powerful.

Would bring exactly the kind of dynamism Sunderland have been missing for so long.

RM: Leeds United striker Chris Wood. The 25-year-old was in scintillating form for Leeds this season, scoring a stunning 30 goals in 48 appearances.

The chances of a) Leeds being willing to sell him and b) Sunderland having the money available to buy him are slim to say the least, but he would be a brilliant signing.

Sunderland need to add goals.

l Don’t forget, you can still have your say on Sunderland’s season and what happens next in our 2017/17 survey. Go to sunderlandecho.com to take part.