It couldn’t have been a much more “Sunderland” season for the Black Cats could it? Struggle for the first 30 games of the season, bring in a manager, survive, and then repeat again the next season. They only fell into the relegation zone for two weeks out of the whole campaign, so relegation never looked hugely on the cards, however it still wasn’t a good season for Sunderland. The lowest point was surely the 8-0 loss away at Southampton back in October when Sunderland were thoroughly embarrassed. Their biggest downfall throughout the bulk of the season was the amount of games they won. With just seven wins in the entire season, and three of them coming in the last seven weeks of the campaign, Sunderland had no cutting edge in order to see off the opposition. Their top goalscorer scoring just five goals in a league season shows exactly why they struggled.
Only 31 league goals with 14 of them coming from forwards in the form of Wickham, Fletcher, Defoe and Graham is an area that they need to work on if they don’t want to have yet another season where they just about survive the drop into the Championship. I think this is the key area purely because, if you ignore the 8-0 loss, defensively they didn’t concede goals in abundances. Arguably the highlight of Sunderland’s season would have to be the two Tyne-Wear derbies against bitter rivals Newcastle United. Two 1-0 wins in the two games against each other have given huge bragging rights for the black cats going into next season. The home game may always be remembered for one of the greatest goals ever scored in that particular derby, with Jermaine Defoe’s volley into the top right hand corner which left him, and a huge number of the fans in tears just before half time in the game.
All of this came after Gus Poyet was sacked from the Stadium of Light back in March, replaced the next day by the former Belgium and Russia coach Dick Advocaat. Much like the impact both Di Canio and Poyet himself had at the back end of the season, it was enough to keep them in the league, and having extended his stay for at least another season, it’ll be interesting to see now if he fairs the same way as the two mentioned above or if he can turn the fortunes around in the North-East. In terms of next season, Sunderland do need to improve in a number of areas of the pitch if they want to change their fortunes; without that, you would have to fear for them again.
Key Player - Lee Cattermole
Like a number of the teams down the bottom of the table, it’s very hard to pick a key player for a club that generally struggled. Like I have done with some of these, I’ve decided to give it to someone who has been consistent throughout the whole season, and it doesn’t come in much better form than club captain Lee Cattermole.
The driving force in the heart of their midfield, Cattermole has become one of the hardest midfielders in the league, causing terror to almost every attacking midfielder that gets in his way. Playing as a holding midfielder, he does sit back, allowing the rest of the midfield to get forward and join in the attack, and with better quality in front of him, he could prove to be a very good holding midfielder.
Averaging 2.7 tackles per game, Cattermole was joint 25th in the league with teammate Patrick Van Aanholt, and in a struggling side this was quite impressive. The main negative to Cattermole’s game, and widely known, is his ability to pick up yellow cards at will. No red cards this campaign, but an impressive 14 yellow cards made him the most booked player in the entire league.
Most Improved Player - Costel Pantilimon
Much like Cattermole, no one really improved their game massively over the course of the season. At left-back, summer-signing Patrick Van Aanholt looked strong down the left hand side and came along vastly from when I’d seen him in Chelsea and Vitesse colours, but it’s another one of Sunderland’s summer signings that I think came the longest way during the course of the season.
Despite being given the number one shirt, the Romanian spent the start of the season second in the pecking order to Vito Mannone. After a string of poor performances culminating in the aforementioned 8-0 loss to Southampton, Mannone was replaced by the 6’8″ Pantilimon, who went on to keep his place in the team for the majority of the season. Out of the 28 league games he played in, Pantilimon kept 11 clean sheets, including a magnificent goalkeeping performance away at Arsenal which clinched the point keeping Sunderland in the league. Now 28, he’ll be coming into his prime as a goalkeeper and after a poor stint at Manchester City, the Romanian’s finally getting regular game time at Sunderland, and it could really see him improve in the coming years.
Fans’ View - Michael Graham (Managing Editor for Roker Report)
You know that ‘start of season feel’ where it seems like a team is just easing their way in and waiting for the campaign to get going? Well Sunderland’s lasted about 30 games. Sunderland only actually lost 14 games, which was the same as Southampton and just two more than Liverpool and Spurs, so they weren’t a bad team. Problem is, they only won seven, which was the lowest in the division.
The 17 draws, a joint all-time Premier League record in a 38 game format, were indicative of why Sunderland ultimately struggled under Gus Poyet. Possibly scarred by the 8-0 defeat at Southampton, they struggled to truly commit until Dick Advocaat’s late arrival. The Dutchman injected energy and adventure into the Black Cats at the right moments.
It wasn’t so much a season of struggle for Sunderland but a season of sleepwalking. Only really Seb Larsson, the club’s player of the season, Lee Cattermole and Costel Pantilimon truly excelled. A little improvement next year could go a long way.