The good, the bad and the ugly: Sunderland 2017/18 awards and takeover hopes after woeful season

0
Have your say

It has arguably been the most wretched season in Sunderland’s history.

Lowlights aplenty, highlights few and far between.

George Honeyman celebrates a goal earlier this season.

George Honeyman celebrates a goal earlier this season.

Here, Phil Smith and Rich Mennear pick through the bones of it, searching for some of the few positives and looking ahead to the future with the end of season awards....

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

PHIL SMITH: George Honeyman was Sunderland’s player of the year by some distance.

It is not a particularly significant accolade given the widespread under performance across the squad, but not only has he been a beacon in terms of his commitment and passion, he has improved as a player.

There is much for him to improve on, certainly, but his comments about ending the club ‘gravy train’ was music to the ears of supporters. The new regime, too,

The challenge now is to keep him.

RICHARD MENNEAR: Had injury problems not limited him to just 16 Sunderland appearances this season then Paddy McNair would be a strong contender for player of the year.

The club wouldn’t have been relegated had he been playing all season and it is no coincidence performances improved when he returned on a regular basis. Just too late to save Sunderland.

In terms of the player that has made the most consistent impact over the past 10-months, it has to be George Honeyman.

The academy product has been a shining light this campaign, scoring seven goals from midfield along the way.

Tipped to be a future captain, Sunderland will look to keep hold of Honeyman this summer but the vultures are already circling.

Aiden McGeady also deserves a mention after his seven goals but ultimately he wasn’t consistent enough.

BREAKTHROUGH OF THE YEAR

PS: He featured less than a lot of the club’s other young talent and had some difficult afternoons but Ethan Robson has the potential to be a key player next year.

Unlike some other academy graduates, his future on Wearside looks secure with two years left on his deal, and while physically he has some work to do, technically he looks excellent.

Sunderland’s midfield has been one-dimensional for too long but Robson has a tremendous passing range.

It was a delight to watch him against Wolves, combative but forward-thinking too. He looks a good bet at the base of the midfield going forward.

RM: Joel Asoro. The 19-year-old had a sniff of first team football in the final Premier League campaign but he broke through this season.

Asoro made 29 appearances, scoring three goals. He proved he can play at Championship level, often a thorn in the side of fullbacks.

Raw yes but also pacy, direct, fearless, capable of scoring and providing assists, Asoro is yet to sign a new deal and it should be a priority of the new owners to ensure he does.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

PS: In Aiden McGeady and Callum McManaman, Sunderland had in theory two wingers the match of anyone in the second tier.

McGeady did produce seven goals, and many would say Coleman did not give him enough chances at a crucial stage of the season. To his credit, he also played through injury towards the end of the campaign.

Consistency was a big issue, however, and on the other flank Callum McManaman never got going.

There were flashes of his potential and he could yet prove to be an asset but the output was nowhere near enough for players of their pedigree.

That, in a nutshell, was the story of Sunderland’s transfer business this year.

RM: Sunderland had the second worst defence in the Championship and it is no exaggeration to say Sunderland’s goalkeeping problems was a deciding factor in relegation.

A total of seven times the goalkeepers were changed with neither Simon Grayson or Chris Coleman settling – or having the confidence – to decide on a firm No.1.

With the backline of defence being changed so often, it made life harder for the defenders with no settled selection.

All three keepers had different approaches so the defence rarely knew if they were coming or going.

DARKEST DAY

PS: A 3-1 defeat to Barnsley set in motion a desperate set of results that brought a positive start to the season to an abrupt end.

A few weeks later, a truly abysmal showing at Portman Road made clear where the season was heading.

It was one of the worst defensive performances Sunderland have produced in their recent history, matched perhaps only by the 8-0 collapse at Southampton.

On paper the Black Cats had by far the better team but they were outfought in every department. It was an utter shambles, one that a stunned Simon Grayson never recovered from.

RM: There have been many this season but the one that stands out is Birmingham City away, a 3-1 defeat.

That limp performance and devastating result against relegation rivals Birmingham was the start of a 10-game winless streak.

It effectively cost Sunderland their Championship status as the revival, of sorts, from Easter weekend came far too late in the day.

Even then Sunderland were unable to hold on to a lead and threw away nine points in four games.

BIGGEST REGRET

PS: After beating Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, Sunderland entered the January window just about on the up.

Results under Chris Coleman were not spectacular but they were solid and crucially, enough to keep the club up had they been maintained.

It unravelled so quickly from there, with Lewis Grabban jumping ship and Ellis Short rejecting Coleman’s plea for a small cash injection.

The youngsters who arrived were talented but needed too long to adapt. The situation was salvageable but not enough was done and in the end it hurt Short in his pocket when relegation was confirmed.

That Coleman soon departed remains a bitter disappointment.

RM: Aside from the obvious, successive relegations, it was the departure of Chris Coleman.

The former Wales boss put his reputation on the line to join Sunderland and while he failed to keep the club up, the reasons why are deep-rooted.

Financial problems limited spending on the team this season while constant managerial change, huge turnover of players and injury problems all contributed to the club’s recent demise.

Coleman only had one transfer window and didn’t have a single penny to spend. While relegation falls on his shoulders, the bulk of the responsibility lies elsewhere.

It just felt like a huge missed opportunity having enticed Coleman to Wearside to then see him depart before having a real chance to put his stamp on it.

BIGGEST POSITIVE

RM: The emergence of youth. A lot of faith has been put in the Sunderland youngsters this campaign and they haven’t let anybody down.

George Honeyman has matured and will be much better for this season, Joel Asoro and Josh Maja both broke through while Lynden Gooch also played a big role.

The final game of the season saw the next generation offered a chance too, the likes of Luke Molyneux, Bali Mumba and Denver Hume.

PS: A swift sale (pending EFL approval) has given Sunderland the chance to build some momentum ahead of next season.

While no one can yet know how successful Stewart Donald will be, the club should be able to get moving with its plans and if they recruit well, there will be some genuine optimism ahead of the new campaign.

That seemed a distant dream after the 2-1 defeat to Burton Albion.

BIGGEST HOPE FOR TAKEOVER

PS: That the new regime has a footballing vision based on speed, creativity and attacking intent.

If they get that right, and recruit a manager and players who fit that mould, then everything else will follow.

RM: That it goes through quickly, that a new manager – someone like Chris Wilder – is appointed quickly and they are given the tools to rebuild the club.

A huge turnover of players is due, incomings and outgoings. As many as 14 new players could arrive this summer.

The takeover is a chance for Sunderland to hit the reset button and start all over again.

Stewart Donald & Co must grasp that opportunity.