Friday, 30 December 2011

Martin O'Neill and January

January is just around the corner and that, of course, means the English transfer window is reopening and teams can trade players once again. It's the perfect chance for managers to freshen up their squads after observing half of the season. Teams will be looking to strengthen for different reasons, whether that be to launch a second half revival and secure Premier League status for another year, or whether it's to have one final push for the title. Martin O'Neill's Sunderland, however, will be looking to get their season back on track and try to salvage another top ten finish.

O'Neill has inherited a squad that hasn't lived up to early expectations to say the least, and January is now his chance to bring in a few of his own players and with a bit of luck, strengthen the areas his predecessor failed to do so. Most Sunderland fans will know this is the left hand-side in particular. We have players that 'can do a job' or are 'solid', but to push on and achieve our short and long term ambitions, we need to have players in every position that can be better than just mediocre. Unfortunately, at times, our fans seem to settle for hard working players with little skill. That isn't a criticism of this type of player, either, however effort doesn't bring success on its own I'm afraid.

That said, I think we need a minimum of three players in January. First off, I think the first half of the season has taught us many things, one being that we can't score for toffee and this will need to be addressed with a new frontman, someone, dare I say it, like our mate Darren Bent; the man that left us a year this month. Despite having four forwards at the club, there isn't anyone that screams 'clinical finisher' at you. A recognised left-back should be on Mr. O'Neill's shopping list, too. Someone who you can look down your squad list at and know exactly where he'll be playing. Not a Richardson, a Bardsley or an O'Shea (and most certainly not a George McCartney), these players all have natural positions and left-back isn't it. Least importantly I still think we need an extra centre half just to make sure, having said that though, O'Neill's comments this week suggest he may not have ruled out forgotten boy Matt Kilgallon and Sunderland veteran Nyron Nosworthy. We know these players aren't good enough, though, and another centre-half would be a welcome addition. I mentioned before that the whole left side needed sorting, and although that is true to an extent I think Richardson is more than capable of playing left-wing with McClean looking like a promising prospect too. I'd still like to see a natural left sided midfielder through the door come January 31st.

In the meantime though, Sunderland have started recovering already. O'Neill is now four games into his reign on Wearside and seven points from a possible twelve is a decent return, especially when you take into account an away game at third placed Spurs, a trip to Loftus Road and a tough fixture against our nemesis (Everton, of course). There's still plenty more hard work to do but faith has been restored around the Stadium of Light and things are looking up for once, in Martin we trust.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Season so far

It's a football cliché that fans around the country probably always say about their team, however I can honestly say there's never a dull moment supporting Sunderland. Unfortunately, though, it's not always for the right reasons. The season started full of promise for the lads and Steve Bruce, even before the first game away to Liverpool kicked off. We'd signed nine new first team players and it was a new look Sunderland, hopefully one that could progress further up the league and keep us moving on up as a club. There was also the added excitement of the derby being so early on in the season, the first home game in fact.

The point at Liverpool was a point gained in many fans' eyes, we weren't expecting anything nor would we have been disheartened with a defeat, but Sebastien Larsson had other ideas when the Swede struck a sweet scissor kick into the far corner past Pepe Reina. The game ended 1-1 and the lads headed back to home territory with something to build on and confidence heading into the all important Derby the following week. Although this was a good away point, we had to keep our feet firmly on the ground and approach the Newcastle game no differently to any other. Newcastle also gained a creditable draw at home to Arsenal on the opening week. 

Derby day came round and everybody was in a positive and expectant mood. We knew that we were capable of beating the unwashed comfortably, although we were also capable of beating them on Halloween the year before. Now, I think we all know what happened. We lost. We deserved to lose. We absolutely battered them first half, Sessegnon was uncontrollable and the mags couldn't cope. However the second half was a stark contrast to what we saw in the first forty-five minutes. There was no passion, no commitment, no willing, no heart and no care. The performance was frankly embarrassing and arguably as frustrating and depressing as the 5-1 drubbing the year before. Not one of those players looked as if they cared, this was the hardest thing to digest, not the 0-1 result. It was a strange feeling after the match, I'd already accepted the defeat as soon as their goal went in. I knew there was no way back from then, we simply didn't have the team spirit and never looked like scoring. So by the time we came out of the ground and all my mates were suicidal looking, all I wanted to do was drown my sorrows with several pints. 

A week of constant taunts and mickey-taking (read: hell) over, then, and the next fixture was around the corner. Normally I'd talk about the cup tie at Brighton on the Tuesday night here, however that performance isn't worth any words. New boys Swansea at their place were up next in the league and the lads were looking to get more points on the board and try to kick-start our season, putting last week's defeat behind us. We could only 0-0 draw though, despite having enough chances to win the game. 

There had been rumours that £13m striker Asamoah Gyan was on the verge of leaving, however they were rubbished by himself and his manager via twitter. So with our minds at rest on the matter, it was a massive shock to hear the club announce he had signed for UAE side Al-Ain on a season long loan. I mean, Al-who? Exactly. I highly doubt Gyan knew who either. It was the most obvious financial influenced transfer since the last top striker to leave Sunderland. It was later revealed that Gyan would be earning £250k at his new club who had an average attendance of circa 400. There was a lot of confusion and anger expressed on the back of this deal, but we had no choice but to get on with it. Hell, we're used to 'getting on with it'. This left us without a proven striker, and just 18-year-old Connor Wickham and 19-year-old Ji Dong-Won in the striker area. We had to get someone in and fast, and we eventually did on the last day of the window, bringing in the Danish international Nicklas Bendtner on loan from Arsenal. 

I'm not going to talk about the Chelsea game much, not because we disgraced ourselves, but because there isn't a lot to say. We got beat 1-2, with Ji scoring a last minute consolation goal. That's about it really, beaten by a better team and no complaints from anybody. It just meant that the following game became even more important. So Stoke arrived on Wearside with their new forward Peter Crouch in their ranks, a man who had turned us down just a week earlier. He had little effect though, and the lads dished out a 4-0 hammering and their first really good performance of the season. We had luck along the way, with a deflected goal and an own goal, but we showed class too; particularly that of Larsson's right boot as he struck a free kick into the bottom corner. There was a sigh of relief after this game, and the feeling that we could really start to kick on now and get more points on the board. 

That obviously wouldn't be the case. Norwich awaited us next as the lads travelled to Carrow Road on a Monday night full of confidence, however so were the Canaries following a good win over Bolton a week earlier. We got off to a terrible start, going 1-0 down after half an hour to a Leon Barnett tap-in. We were unable to get an equaliser before half-time and went in 1-0 down at the break. Three minutes into the second half and it got inevitably worse, 2-0 to the home side now and Morison the scorer. Richardson pulled one back with 5 minutes to go, but it finished 2-1 and another shocking performance ended in a very poor result. These performances were becoming all too familiar. 

The week after brought another fixture the lads should be winning, West Brom at home. We started awfully. How awfully? Well we were 2-0 down after 5 minutes. That's how awful it was. At least this time we showed a bit of fight and twenty minutes later we were level. Two goals in two minutes pulled us level, first a goal from new lad Bendtner followed by a powerful header from Egyptian right-winger Elmohamady, to record his first goal in red and white. With an hour left on the clock we could have gone on to win it, we were comfortable and should have won, we created enough chances to but it wasn't to be. Despite the comeback, it was another poor result. Pressure began to mount on Bruce. 

It was International weekend now and several of the squad jetted off to join up with their country, but it gave us the fans a chance to reflect on a bad start to the season. It also gave us a week off! During this break though, something big happened regarding the club. A few half expected it, some knew nothing about it. Of course I'm talking about the resignation of chairman Niall Quinn. The big Irishman had been at the helm for five years now, and his 'magic carpet' ride was over. It had been a blast, an absolute pleasure to be a part of and the pride had been restored back in Sunderland. Wearside could be happy again, everyone had found their smile. Ellis Short was now in charge of club affairs, with Niall moving over to 'International Development'. Now some thought he'd been pushed out, but this was all very much his doing and his all along intention. Whatever the circumstances though, the man will always be a legend up here.

Back to footballing matters and Bruce's men faced a difficult challenge in North London. Arsenal had found their feet again are were back to winning ways, unfortunately it continued. We put in a decent performance, though, and only lost 2-1. Bearing in mind we were 1-0 down within 30 seconds, we did well to get back into the game courtesy of another Seb Larsson free kick. We were unable to withstand the pressure from the Gunners though, and Van Persie netted his second ten minutes from time. An expected defeat, but another one nonetheless. 

We were on the road again the following week, with Bolton the opponent. Owen Coyle's men had suffered a worse start to the season than us believe it or not, but had somehow managed to win a game more. The first half was very dull and boring, both teams scared to attack almost. The second half was a lot different though, we came out fired up and a bit more energetic. We had chance after chance towards the end of the game, I began to think it wouldn't be our day. Sessegnon made sure that wouldn't be the case in the 82nd minute as the ball eventually landed to the jinky Benin man's feet to stab home on the turn. 1-0. We had our hearts in our mouths again though as Darren Pratley went one-on-one with Mignolet, who stood up till the last minute and denied the Bolton midfielder an equaliser. Bolton began to commit more men forward, and with this the lads were able to attack on the break. A quick move from one end of the pitch to the other saw Sess with the ball again, he selfishly slipped the ball to Bendtner who converted to make it 2-0. Game over. 

 Anyway, that brings us up to where we are now. A little bit of faith restored, but with Bruce far from redeemed himself. A win against Aston Villa on Saturday though will help a hell of a lot, and maybe we can finally start to climb the table. Who knows, though?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Why this has been neglected

As you're probably aware if you've read my blog recently, there hasn't been a post since derby day, and that was somewhat short. Anyway, I'm not just being a lazy sod and decided to give up on it (not that there has been anything to shout about), but I've had my mind focused on a more serious project of mine.

For those of you that follow me on twitter, which I assume is most of you, or else you'd probably be not reading this otherwise, you may know that I'm in the process of launching a new Sunderland related website, which focuses on legends, cult heroes, past matches, interviews with ex players and many more features. I first had the idea to start The Roker Light in February 2010, and I got straight to work with the other lad I'm doing this with, Nathan. We hit a few glitches along the way and sort of neglected it for a few month, but I'm pleased to say we're back on track and it's coming along nicely. Hopefully we'll launch in Winter this year, all going to plan.

At the moment, we're in the process of recruiting a full time article team. We have three members currently, but ideally we'd like a couple more. If you're interested in writing for us, please email with a few details about yourself and we'll consider you. As we're focusing on the history of the club, people of an older age would be specifically good to have, however we're open to look at anyone interested.

Please follow @ on twitter for more information and updates about how we're getting on, and after launch, that will be the place we plug our articles and interviews.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The big one, Mackems v Geordies.

So as I type this, two days before Sunderland take to the field at the Stadium of Light for the first time this season, I'm bricking it. This isn't a normal fixture, far from it, this is the most important 90 minutes of football all season, just a tad more important than the away fixture. Yep, it's the Wear-Tyne Derby; a fixture that brings out the hatred between the two clubs and the two sets of supporters more than any other time of the year. There aren't many teams in the world that have the power to make people hate each other for their allegiances, however Sunderland and Newcastle are two of them.

The importance of the game, in the grand scheme of things, is just the same as any other. The same amount of points are at stake as an away tie at Stoke. It's not the points that matter though, it's the bragging rights that the winner will hold until the two teams meet again and fight for those rights once more. Obviously, as it stands, it's the Tynesiders that have the edge on Sunderland in that sense, what with the mauling at St. James' last season and then being thirty seconds away from a win on Wearside soil.

That's in the past, though, and as Sunderland fans, we know that we have to deal with the constant grief for probably the rest of our lives, the only thing that will overrule that is for us to better the scoreline. Unlikely, in my lifetime. For now, though, the best thing for us to do is set the record straight by proving that we're far superior to them lot, first of all by winning the game on Saturday, followed by earning at least a draw on March 3rd. In addition to those, we need to finish above them for the fourth season in a row. Once we have done those three things, maybe people will start to realise that we really are top dogs, and we're here to stay.

We're the favourites going into the game in 48 hours time, but we all know that once the whistle is blown anything can happen. Despite being quietly confident myself about the game, I'm also wary and I'm definitely not underestimating them again. As long as we play to our strengths and repeat the second half performance from Anfield last Saturday, we'll be fine and we'll win. That's a big 'if', however, and it depends what Sunderland turn up. I'm sure Bruce doesn't need to motivate his players any further, the results from last season should do that on their own. Having said that, I hope the longer serving players have told the nine new recruits that this really is a battle, pride is at stake, and that counts for a lot more than any points on offer.

All that's left to say is;

Ha'way the lads.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

James McClean: An Irish point of view.

1) Do you think James McClean can cut it in the Premier League?
The short answer would be no, at least not right away. Very few players have come from the League of Ireland and slotted straight into the top level of English football. James McClean will leave Derry City as one of their most prized sons but will arrive at Sunderland as a prospect rather than a sure and quick answer to a defensive gap. Then again, Sunderland aren't flush with quality out wide, at least not to my eyes. Steve Bruce said that, upon confirmation of the transfer, McClean has "every chance to come here and make the next step in his career [and he] is an outstanding young talent." Bruce appears to like him, so with a little space in the squad, there's no reason to believe that James McClean won't have an opportunity to develop, but it shouldn't be expected straight away.

2) What's the general feeling amongst Derry fans, looking forward to seeing how he does, or annoyed with him for going?
There's no financial security for these players, they're all on fragile deals at any given time, so very few fans would begrudge a player a contract at an English side. A move to a good side in England is massive for any League of Ireland player; most supporters' best wishes will be with him. Sunderland are a big side, and they're the receptacle of a lot of Irish support from both sides of the Northern/Republic divide. Significant dissent from the Derry fans would be difficult to justify as, realistically, this is the opportunity that every kid dreams of. He'll be missed, of course.

3) What type of player is McClean; strengths, weaknesses, attitude?
Links with Blackpool, West Ham, Everton and Reading over the past year - and now his move to Sunderland - would indicate that these big clubs see something serious in him. He's naturally a good athlete, quick off the mark, full of energy. The best thing about him, or the most endearing thing perhaps, is that he has constantly improved since he broke into the Derry City team. He works really hard at the different aspects of his game. For example, game after game, his deliveries from the wing seem to get more dangerous. He's has been a big factor in Derry striker Eamon Zayed's goal tally this year.

4) If you could liken him to a well known player, who would it be?
Any time I see him I always think of Barcelona's Pedro. They're both built similarly; they're quick, energetic. They've also got a great mentality, really likable players.

5) There's been some controversy lately about James turning Northern Ireland's national team down, can you shed some light on the situation?
This is one of a number of defections over recent years. It really is about a lot more than seeing more success with the Republic of Ireland. It is is his own personal desire, his dream, to play for the Republic of Ireland. That comes from a sense of national pride. McClean's heart is shamrock green, so for him and for some others, the idea of Northern Ireland is probably tinged with a little British blue. He plays for Derry City, the only club from Northern Ireland that play in the League of Ireland. That in itself says a lot, as there is a very competitive domestic league in that county which, I'm sure, would have been an option were he that way inclined.

I would also add that, despite what some people are saying, it isn't as if Northern Ireland have been developing him for years. Derry manager Steven Kenny has said that he had to recommend McClean for selection to the Northern Ireland squad, so they haven't exactly been all over him since his youth; they haven't been robbed of an asset that they have been zealously guarding.

6) Will he be a big miss to Derry or is the £350k more valuable?
He will be a big loss to Derry, but they do have a good squad that will hopefully continue their good form. The money will be a comfort though. That's absolutely HUGE money for a League of Ireland side. He is one of their own products, so that's pure profit too. Money is really tight in our domestic leagues so you can't refuse that kind of offer.

7) Do you think he can emulate the success that David Meyler and Daryl Murphy have had at Sunderland; having been signed from the Irish league?
A good number of players have gone onto England from the League of Ireland and been successful. Circumstances are right for James McClean to be another. There is a good Irish contingent at Sunderland at the moment so I'm sure he'll feel very welcome there. I think I'm right in saying that there isn't exactly a lot of competition wide on the left at Sunderland, so he'll probably get some game time quite quickly. He'll be playing with quality players, so responsibility won't just be heaped upon him. I really wouldn't be surprised if that £350,000 turned out to be a great value investent for Steve Bruce.

8) Do you think losing players from the Irish league is showing a lack of ambition, or do you think it shows the quality of it?
It definitely shows that there's quality in the league. There's more there if any other English sides want some of it too. Financially, there's no way for Irish teams to even think of resisting offers like this one though. Our domestic game just doesn't create the revenue that would enable clubs to say no when their James McClean or Kevin Doyle are wanted by a bigger English side. We're miles off having big television deals, sponsorship contracts or anything like that. My local side, Bray Wanderers, only get a few hundred at every game despite the fact that they're playing in the top flight.

9) Are there any other players in the Irish league that you think can make the step up?
Considering how cheap these players can be bought for, I do find it a little curious that we don't export more men over to England. Championship clubs are really missing a trick, I think, as they could get real quality if they just sent a few scouts over with a checkbook. I'd love to see Adam Mitchell from Bray go over and be given a go. He's a great centre half, still young, albeit with a bit of a temper.

10) Finally, any stand-out memories of McClean?
James McClean scored an absolute screamer a few months ago when Derry beat Galway United 6-0. He took possession in central midfield and glided past three men before firing a low one home past the Galway 'keeper. If that can happen in Sunderland's stripes, he'll become very popular, very quickly.

Thanks to Cathal for this interview, you can follow him on twitter at @

Monday, 8 August 2011

Bruce in or Bruce out? Poll results.

The results of the poll are as follows;

In - 26 votes, 72%
Out - 6 votes, 16%
Undecided - 2 votes, 5%
Not bothered - 2 votes, 5%

That only adds up to 98%, I know, but that's what the poll says!

I suspect a few have changed their mind on this after the summer signings, in fact, I know they have. You cheeky swines!

 You can vote on my latest poll now; Who is the most exciting Summer signing?

Progression has hiccups

A few times last season I found myself asking myself 'Why do I do this?', particularly after Halloween and the home defeats to Fulham and West Brom. But then there are the other times, like Chelsea away, where you realise the answer to that question is for games like that - and at the time, it's easy to think that you'd happily have a few dodgy results for a result like that. On the flipside, though, at the time of uninspiring and embarrassing defeat, you'd rather you had won that game and lost to a top side.

Gyan and Henderson celebrate the second goal at Stamford Bridge.
Despite a few downs last season, probably more downs than ups in fact, it was a decent season for Sunderland, achieving our aim of finishing in the top 10 on the final day as the lads ran out 3-0 winners at Upton Park against already relegated West Ham. Despite the win, though, we had to rely on the result at St. James Park where Newcastle played host to West Brom. The home side were 3-0 up at half time and our game suddenly became irrelevant. Step up Somen Tchoyi. A second half hat-trick from the Baggies' forward meant that we had leap frogged them in them the league and secured 10th position by the skin of our teeth. That was one of the better points of the season.

In his final game for Sunderland, Zenden scores the first at Upton Park.
My point is; if ever you're unhappy with the team's performance then at least you can be safe in the knowledge that our club is going in the right direction, and with an owner we can trust and a Chairman that is a legend on Wearside, we're definitely in the best position off the pitch we've ever been in. As for on it, Steve Bruce is building a very good side and it really looks like we're going to kick on this season. Realistically, another top 10 finish would show stability and prove that last season wasn't just a fluke, but there's the tiny part of every Sunderland fan that, deep down, knows that Europe is a real possibility. We're used to being let down however, and for me, and your average fan would realise that 9th is a good finish and still progression. Baby steps is the key, we're not ready for Europe just yet. Give it another year or two.

Niall Quinn and Ellis Short. We're in safe hands.
It's a massive cliché, 'Rome wasn't built in a day', but at the same time it's true. Just remember that 6 years ago, we would have already started our season in the Championship, and we would already have lost. When the 'Magic Carpet ride' started, there was a 5 year plan in place. The 5 year plan was to get us back to the Premier League, in that 5 year, we've been promoted, survived, survived, survived comfortably, and finished in the top 10. We're way ahead of schedule and although we've earned the right to be where we are, we still have to be grateful to everyone involved that we are here. Back to my point; progression takes time in football, we have to be patient and accept that progression may be slow. Also, it'll not be plain-sailing and straightforward, there will be hiccups along the way. Back the lads, though, and we'll get there in the end.

Sunderland win the Championship, 4 year ahead of Schedule.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Pre-Season Tour of Germany 2011

Sorry for neglecting you lot and this blog for a while, but I do have a genuine reason. I've been in Germany for 10 days supporting the lads in their games against Arminia Bielefeld, Hannover 96 and Borussia Monchengladbach. Anyway, here's a few images from the trip, I'll not bore you with too much text as there's nothing worse than other people telling you about their holiday!

At the Bielfelder Alm before kick off of the first game v Arminia Bielefeld. Sessegnon grabbed a late equaliser to prevent us from losing embarrassingly to the 3rd division outfit. Final score; 1-1.

We based ourselves in Dusseldorf, above is me and two of the other lads at the River Rhein.

Also in Dusseldorf was the 24 hour bar, this picture was taken at the time we left, 7am. Daylight!

We also went to a couple of other grounds whilst there, there's me at Bay Arena - Leverkusen's ground.

We also became regulars at the off license, 1.30 euro for a pint sized bottle is not to be turned down! 

Although I became slightly suspicious of it when they gave me a free shot of this... I drank it though, was nice!

Andy fell in the bushes.

During the match at Hameln v Hannover 96. We lost the game 3-1.
Me and my dad flying the flag in Germany for Chester-le-Street.

Lads in the bar at Hameln.

He couldn't resist licking the breast of a statue.

We called in at Borussia Dortmund's ground and snuck past the security guard.

Andy made a friend in the form of a Polish tramp.

Leaving our mark in the Irish Bar. FTM

My dad ended up adopting a dog for an hour. Some woman came in and handed him the lead and said she'd be 30 seconds. It was an hour later she turned up to collect Henry.

Borussia Park. Borussia Monchengladbach 0-0 Sunderland.

On the way back to Dusseldorf square after going to Fortuna Dusseldorf's ground for their match against Bochum, we got there at half time and they wanted 20 euro to get in. We hit the bars instead.

Err, erm, don't ask.

Monday, 11 July 2011

On this day

11th of July isn't a particularly significant date in the grand scheme of things; 1991 saw Labour MP Terry Fields jailed for 60 days for refusing to pay his poll tax, and in 1979 the space laboratory Skylab I, plunged back to earth. None of those are relevant to Sunderland at all, but 21 years ago today was, what happened then? Kevin Ball signed for Sunderland of course!

Bally lifts the D1 Trophy
'Bally' traveled from the South Coast to join Sunderland from Portsmouth in 1990 for a fee of £350,000. He was signed by Denis Smith as a centre half, but throughout his career on Wearside, Ball filled in at centre midfield and it was there where he excelled, making that his more permanent position along the way. He was predominantly known for his tough tackling style of play, which accompanied his determined and no-nonsense attitude perfectly. Bally's Sunderland career lasted a lengthy 9 years, where he racked up 388 appearances for the lads, contributing 27 goals in the process. In his first two years at the club, Ball lined up alongside Gary Bennett in the heart of Sunderland's defence in the 1992 FA Cup final against Liverpool, which we unfortunately lost 2-0, the difference in class showed as Micky Thomas and Ian Rush delivered the goods to see off a hapless Sunderland side.

Ball enjoyed a tremendously successful tenure on Wearside, captaining the side after the departure of Paul Bracewell and winning the Player of the Year award in the 1996/1997 season. Prior to that, he helped Sunderland back to the Premier League by winning the Division 1 title in 1995/1996, a feat that he reproduced 2 years later, as he lifted the trophy in 1999 as Sunderland ended the season on a record total of 105 points, losing just 3 times that season.

Following promotion to the Premier League, a 34 year old Kevin Ball was deemed surplus to requirements by then manager Peter Reid, and he was allowed to move on in search for first team football, and he did so, arriving at Craven Cottage to play for Fulham who had just been promoted to the First Division under Kevin Keegan. He spent just a year in London however, before moving on to Burnley where he ended his career after a 2 year stint at Turfe Moore.

Kevin Ball as a coach.
Kevin Ball, a fans' favourite wherever he's played his football, is a Sunderland legend. His style of play is appreciated by fans of all North East clubs, and he was a perfect match for us at the time. Ball returned to the club to take up the role of Assistant Academy Manager, working alongside Ged McNamee. Following the sacking of Mick McCarthy in 2006, Ball was temporarily promoted to Caretaker Manager of the first team for the remaining 10 games. He then reverted back to the academy role that he occupies to this day. Upon returning to his more familiar role, Ball and McNamee guided Sunderland's youth team to a league title win in 2008, as well as this, Ball has helped produce some of the academy's biggest names such as Grant Leadbitter, Martyn Waghorn, Jordan Henderson and Jack Colback. Although the latter is the only remaining player at the club, Leadbitter and Waghorn are both playing at a respectable level in the form of the Championship, whilst Henderson now plays at Liverpool following his £20m move.

I'll leave you with this; Is Kevin Ball the only man capable of hitting his own cross-bar from 35 yards with a sliding tackle?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Another welcome addition, John O'Shea.

John O'Shea: Sunderland Player
John O'Shea followed Wes Brown through the doors of the Academy of Light, as he passed a medical and agreed a 4 year deal with Sunderland. The Irishman will help bolster Steve Bruce's defence, as we try to replace Nedum Onuoha and John Mensah who won't be returning to Sunderland after their loan spells ended. Finally it looks like Bruce is signing permanently, and isn't relying on the loan market as much, which could have cost us more than it looks to have done so far. O'Shea, 30, told that "Sunderland were the only place he was going to come to", which is soothing to hear from somebody of his calibre.

O'Shea will of course add a wealth of experience as well as his footballing ability, and his versatility will more than likely come in handy if last season was anything to go by, with players having to play out of their preferred positions due to injuries. O'Shea has won 11 major honours in his time at United, ironically the same amount as Wes Brown who made the same move earlier today. As well as earning several medals at club level, 'Sheasy' has represented his country on 70 occasions, making his debut against Croatia at the age of 20.

Should he be named captain? I think he's better captain material than our current skipper Lee Cattermole, who spends more time watching from the stands than on the pitch. O'Shea is a consistent performer and a reliable player, he leads by example and has experience of being a captain before, stepping in for Robbie Keane of Ireland on occasions, and he's even led Manchester United out before too. The reason I'd have him in line for the captaincy ahead of Brown is the fact he'll more than likely play more, Brown has a track record of injuries and it may be so that that continues, although hopefully not.

Wes Brown: Welcome to Sunderland.

Wes Brown: Done deal.
Sunderland have today completed the signing of Wes Brown from Manchester United, the 31 year old experienced defender has signed a 4 year deal at the club, which will keep him here until 2015 if he honours it. Although there are a few raised eyebrows at the length of the contract given to Brown, I personally think it's a good move by Bruce. Besides, if reports are to be believed and the transfer fee was only £1m, then we can afford to take a risk by giving him a longer contract than expected.

With the departure of fans' favourite Bolo Zenden, who was the Club Captain last season, Brown will add experience to the squad that we're desperately lacking, he's been there, done that, got the winners medal. Brown boasts an astonishing 5 and 2 Premier League and Champions League winners medal respectively, as well as winning the FA Cup and League Cup with United on 2 occasions, bringing his total major honours to 11 with an additional 4 Charity Shield Medals. The rest of our squad put together don't have anywhere near half of that.

On a more lighthearted note, I can't wait to sing his song!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Keiren Westwood: A Coventry fan's view

Westwood in action for Republic of Ireland

1) Keiren finally completed his move to Wearside on Friday, what can Sunderland fans expect from him - what are his main attributes?
You can expect a player who gives 100% every time, he is extremely brave and his ability to pull off a save out of a bleak situation is the main reason we have survived in the championship for so long.

2) Westwood has represented Ireland 7 times, from what you’ve seen, do you believe he is the man to take over from Shay Given?
Definitely, I can see him being involved with the international setup for years to come, he reminds me a lot of Shay Given as well.

3) Do you believe he has what it takes to be number one keeper at a Premier League club?
Yeah, I think being behind a better defence will make him a better keeper, he will flourish against some of the top strikers as well. Be interesting to see what happens when Craig Gordon comes back from injury.

4) What’s your favourite save of Westwood’s whilst at Coventry?
Against Birmingham City a few years ago at St Andrews, ball is crossed in, Birmingham City player heads it from about 3 yards out, Westwood flicks a wrist out and palms it over the crossbar, brilliant save and we went on to win.

5) What’s the general reaction amongst Coventry fans following Keiren’s move to Wearside?
We're sad to see him go but we realised early on in the season that he was unlikely to stay. 90% of us were expecting Westwood to go to a Premier League club (thankfully it wasn't Villa!). We are very excited to see how he does in the Premier League.

6) Coventry have signed Chris Dunn and ex-Sunderland goalkeeper Joe Murphy on free transfers, do you expect the latter to take over from Westwood in goal?
Yeah, Murphy will be first choice and Dunn his understudy, very happy with signing them.

7) According to your manager Andy Thorn, a Premier League club were interested in the services of Chris Dunn, what do you know about him and are you pleased with the signing?
The Northampton fans haven't been too complementary about him, apparently his distribution and kicking is a bit poor although both Oggy and Thorn think that he can match the levels that Westwood played to so that's good enough for me.

8) What sort of season do you expect Sunderland to have next season?
A very good one, been impressed with the signings you've made, I think Wickham is going to be a revelation for you. Wouldn't surprise me if you qualified for the Europa league, maybe a league cup win?

9) What are your aims for next season, where do you predict you’ll finish?
Really could go either way, we do need to make some more signings, I'm happy with the manager we've got so time will tell. Heart says top 10, head says just hovering above relegation zone.

10) Finally, what position do you most need to strengthen now that the goalkeeper situation is sorted, and who, realistically, would you like to sign?
After Marlon's departure we definitely need another striker, Platt and Eastwood aren't good enough to be first choice, would love to see us sign Le Fondre, more likely to be Kevin Phillips though.

I'd like to thank Mark for this interview, you can follow him on twitter at @CovFan

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Connor Wickham heading to Wearside

Wickham scores for Ipswich Town
When I first found out about our interest in Connor Wickham, I have to say I was surprised that we were going for that calibre of player, pleasantly surprised though. I know he's not a major world star but he has been attracting the attention of clubs like Liverpool and Chelsea in the past, and the former were odds on favourite to acquire the signature of the Ipswich starlet. Us Sunderland fans know all too well that Liverpool aren't afraid to splash the cash, with Jordan Henderson completing his move to Merseyside earlier on in the month. However this deal looks to be one that they aren't interested in pursuing any further, and the £13m price tag may be the reason. They already have ex-Newcastle striker Andy Carroll, Uruguayan talent Luis Suarez, Kop favourite Durk Kuyt and back up in the form of David N'Gog, a player that has been heavily linked with a move north to The Stadium of Light.

Although I would be very impressed with Bruce if he does pull this deal off, I still think we need another striker that has proved himself in the Premier League, at the moment we only have one fit striker that we know is capable of playing at this level, I'm sure Wickham will adapt in time but at the moment, an 18 year old player at a new club thrown into the deep end isn't who you want to be relying on to score goals and help assist them. Ji Dong-Won is the other striker that we have all but signed this transfer window, but again, at 20 years of age and no experience of the Premier League, I have my doubts about him making an instant impact.

With this in mind, I'd like to see us go for a striker that has played at this level before and is at a good, mature age to make an instant impact, somebody like Kevin Doyle. I think he's an unrealistic target though as he is the first choice striker at Wolves and a move to Sunderland may not be that appealing when he sees the competition for places in Steve Bruce's starting eleven. Aside from that, Wolves will be less than willing to let him go and he'd only be available at an inflated price, probably around the £8m mark. So, again, as that avenue is probably well and truly closed down, I'm hoping for a fourth striker at the club in on loan, Danny Welbeck will do just fine thanks.

Monday, 27 June 2011

A typical game last season in the form of a Flow Chart

Just a bit of fun!

New Training Wear

Today the new training wear was unveiled by the club and it looks very smart. Umbro have gone with a sky blue theme and a claret and gold theme, the former being the colour of the new away kit. I often prefer some of the training kit to the official kits and tend to buy them more, however I can't help thinking they'd sell a lot better if 'Tombola' wasn't plastered all over the back, front, collar, arm and pretty much anywhere else the logo will fit.

You can see a full gallery of the new training gear on the club's official website; click here.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

It's what we've been missing

Gardner scores for England U21s
This morning I staggered downstairs to the news that 'Gardner should sign today'... I thought my dad meant Ricardo or some other Gardner quite underwhelming. But no, it's Craig Gardner of Birmingham City who had a very impressive season last season, scoring 11 goals from midfield. I think he'd be a brilliant signing and would slot nicely into the centre of our midfield. I was also surprised to hear that the alleged price is only around the £5m mark, which isn't a lot at all for a good player nowadays. Goals from midfield are something which Sunderland have lacked for a lot of years, in fact, I can't remember having a decent goalscoring midfielder since we were promoted in 2007. I'm hoping that Gardner will provide this, and hopefully take some of the weight off the shoulders of Gyan and whoever his strike partner may be next season, a luxury that Darren Bent didn't have. Although I'm not going to start on him. In summary, I think £5m for a goalscoring midfielder that is still only 24 years of age, particularly one with three years of Premier League experience is a brilliant piece of business for the club. I have to admit, I didn't see this one coming and all of a sudden our transfers look to be progressing nicely, with 4 new players through the door, assuming that the Gardner and Dong Won deals go through.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Dong Transplant

We have a new Dong! In the shape of South Korean forward Ji Dong-Won of course, he's reportedly joined Sunderland from Chunnam Dragons in a deal which has cost the club around £2m. He's relatively unknown in football, although he did once have an unsuccessful trial at Reading in 2007, which is slightly discouraging. However four years have passed and he's been quietly getting on with his career, representing his country 11 times, finding the net on 6 occasions. I know absolutely nothing about the lad, other than things I've read on the internet and videos I've seen on youtube. He looks to be a very pacey forward with the added bonus of being 6ft2. It's rare that you get pace on a taller player. Anyway, for the price I think he's probably worth a gamble, and at 20 years of age, there's plenty of time for him to improve and learn from some of the more experienced lads in the squad. However, it could go the other way too. After all, not all of Bruce's signings have been the gems that we had expected at the start of his reign, is this going to be another Paulo Da Silva, Christian Riveros or Marcos Angeleri? Time will tell, but I sincerely hope not.

Did you know?

Did you know that when Spanish flop Arnau Riera joined Sunderland from Barcelona B team, he was offered a choice of top of the range cars as part of his contract? You're probably thinking 'Well, that's not very interesting' however... When looking at the list of posh, flashy and expensive cars to choose from, he said something along the lines of 'I can't drive a car as fancy as any of these when forty thousand people pay money to watch me do my job week in week out.' And that was that, Arnau drove out of the sales room in a modest Mini Cooper.

Click here to go to my list of top 10 SAFC flops, where Arnau features.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

My favourite Sunderland commentary...

Above I have compiled a video of some of my favourite pieces of commentary on Sunderland games.

It includes;

1973 Cup Final v Leeds - Ian Porterfield goal
Ian Porterfield scored the only goal in one of the most famous FA Cup finals of all time. Second division Sunderland had beaten the very reputable Leeds United in the infamous tie.
1990 Play-off Semi Final 2nd Leg v Newcastle - Marco Gabbiadini goal
Marco Gabbiadini secured a 0-2 win over our nearest and not so dearest with a placed shot in the 85th minute to send us to the Play-off Final at Wembley.
2000 Newcastle 1-2 Sunderland - Niall Quinn goal
Local lad Micky Gray swung in a delightful cross from the left hand side which landed perfectly on to the head of the big man, who headed home past a flapping Shay Given.
2000 Newcastle 1-2 Sunderland - Your boys took one hell of a beating
Remember Bjorge Lillelien's rant after Norway beat England in 1981? Well Simon Crabtree cleverly bettered that with his own version upon the full time whistle at St. James' Park in 2000.
2003 Derby County 1-1 Sunderland - Mart Poom goal
Mart Poom dramatically equalised for Sunderland against his former club Derby County in the dying minutes of the game in 2003, he came up for a last minute corner and produced a bullet header which saw the ball fly into the back of the Pride Park net.
2006 Sunderland 3-2 Burnley - Carlos Edwards goal
Simon Crabtree again produces another piece of sheer commentary brilliance. He's going to get a reputation for exaggerating the situation!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Top 10 SAFC flops

10. Marcos Angeleri
There's a few different theories as to why Angeleri's time on Wearside has been unsuccessful to say the least, one of which is that we didn't really want him - and Quinn made a balls up of the whole thing so we ended up stuck with him. How true that is I don't know, however I do think there's more to this than meets they eye. He's represented Argentina four times and reportedly failed a medical at Inter Milan a couple of year ago, having said that though, Jonas Gutierrez (Marcos' long lost brother, surely?) is one of the first names on the Argentinian team sheet. We paid roughly £1.5m for the right back, money which isn't a lot in today's market, but it's certainly unnecessary expenditure. The only thing that has stopped Angeleri being higher up in my list of flops is that he may actually play for us again - God forbid. For now, though, his future is lying in the balance,  it looks as if he'll be on his way back to South America. That would suit us fine.

9. Greg Halford
There were no theories about this signing, the sole reason for him being a flop, in my opinion, was his lack of ability. He was signed from then Premier League side Reading for a fee of £3.5m, he went on to play 8 times for the lads - scoring twice. I don't actually remember a lot about him tbh, other than him being poor and having a long throw, which he didn't really use that much anyway, not that he had much of the chance to anyway. I'd say that Halford was a typical 'Roy Keane signing'. Just not good enough. After those 8 appearances, Keane said that he was willing to listen to offers for the services of Halford, despite being excited by the signing just a few months earlier. Charlton came in for him on loan and he moved to The Valley till the end of the season. Upon returning to Sunderland, we failed to get rid of him permanently again and he ended up back on loan at Sheffield United. We eventually offloaded him to Wolves in 2009.

8. Kelvin Davis
I have to admit, when we signed Kelvin from Ipswich I thought it was a bargain buy. He cost us around £1.25m and I thought it was money well spent by Mick McCarthy. Sadly it wasn't to be, he came with a reputation of being 'a decent keeper' and I'd thought this when watching him play for Ipswich. The thing that did leave my slightly baffled though, was that MicMac had let two very good goalkeepers in Mhyre and Poom go, to bring Kelvin in. He appeared 33 times for the lads in a season that we'd all rather forget, as we suffered relegation with a measly and record low 15 points. Following this, he was sold to Southampton where he would attempt to resurrect his career, we amazingly got the majority of what we paid for him back - moving south for approximately £1m.

7. Jon Stead
Stead will be forever remembered for being the forward that just couldn't score, well, he did, twice. In 35 games. Stead was a target for Sunderland when he played for Huddersfield and he was widely regarded as a hot prospect, Blackburn Rovers beat us to his signature though and he was signed for £1m. However it seemed that Sunderland and Stead were destined to meet, it was just meant to be, and we eventually got our man in June 2005, as he completed a £1.8m switch to Wearside. As I mentioned before, Stead only found the net twice for Sunderland, his first goal came in a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park, his second and final goal was in the 3-1 defeat to Southend in the following season. Stead didn't fit into the plans of new manager Roy Keane and he was loaned out to Derby, where he scored one more than he did at Sunderland, in 16 games less! He was later sold to Ipswich Town for £1.2m.

6. Rade Prica
The Swede was signed from Danish side Aalborg for a fee of around £2m. He was snapped up by Keane after Prica finished the 2006/2007 season as top scorer in Denmark, and with International experience behind him it could surely be nothing other than a bargain. Wrong. It was shocking business in hindsight. He played 6 times for Sunderland, making his debut in a 2-0 home win over Birmingham City, guess what? He scored. It looked to be a sign of things to come as Prica lifted the ball over the Birmingham goalkeeper to seal an important victory. The following game, however, would be a more realistic sign of things to come. Price was brought on as substitute for the injured Kieran Richardson at Anfield, before later being substituted himself for being absolutely shocking. We eventually offloaded Rade to Rosenborg in Norway, and he finished the season as their top goalscorer with 17.

5. Arnau Riera
Arnau Riera was unbelievably signed by Spanish giants Barcelona in a bid to regain Premier League status following relegation. He played just once for Sunderland, as you can't count his second appearance - getting sent off inside 3 minutes in the League Cup game away to Bury. He would never play again. He was then shipped out to Southend United on a month's loan, where he played twice, before going to Falkirk on loan, which was quite a success. He returned to Sunderland and was told he was free to find a new club. He had an unsuccessful trial at Blackpool before being loaned to Falkirk again. He was released in 2009.

4. William Mocquet
William Mocquet really is the mystery man. Aged 23, he chose to accept the offer tabled by Sunderland and make the move from his homeland, France, to Wearside. His old club Le Havre agreed an undisclosed fee for the midfielder with Sunderland and he completed the move in August 2006. The most bizarre thing about this is he never ever played for Sunderland, not even once. He was loaned out to League 2 club Rochdale where he played 7 times and scored once. Upon returning to Sunderland, he was quickly shown the door again and he was on the move to Bury, in the same league as Rochdale, where he would play 9 times. Upon being released by Sunderland, he signed for FC Pau in the 4th tier of France.

3. Tore André Flo
Tore André Flo was signed by manager Peter Reid in 2002 on the final day of the transfer window, for a fee of £6.75m from Rangers. The reason he is so high up in my list of flops is because of the extortionate price that we were forced to pay the Glasgow club for his services, not because he was a particularly bad player. His career achievements suggested otherwise, turning out for Chelsea nearly 150 times. However he only played 33 times for the lads, managing just 6 goals, nowhere near enough for the price we paid. He fell out of favour after the departure of Reid, and following Sunderland's relegation, he was released and moved to Siena in Italy.

2. Nicolás Medina
The most expensive player to never play a league game for Sunderland, £3.5m to be precise. He was signed, again, by Peter Reid in 2001, hooking up with Argentina U21 team mate Julio Arca. Fans and pundits often questioned Reid's decision not to give him a chance, and some thought this was down to a fall out between the two. He did eventually make an appearance in the red and white shirt, playing in an FA Cup game against Bolton Wanderers, he was substituted in the game. He played regularly for Argentina U21's and played once for the seniors. As his spell on Wearside was unsuccessful to say the least, he was loaned to CD Leganés, before permanently signing for Spanish side Real Murcia.

1. Milton Núnez
Yeah, you guessed it, in first position in my list of flops is Honduran forward Milton Nunez. Nunez was signed by Peter Reid in 1999 for a fee that nobody knows, or if they do, are too scared to admit to. He played once for Sunderland in the league, and that was in a 2-1 win at home to Wimbledon. He's become somewhat of a cult hero on Wearside, well, I see it more as a running joke, this is mainly due to his size and lack appearances/ability. Rumour has it; Reid was meant to sign Nunez's strike partner at previous club PAOK FC, Adolfo Valencia. The rumour is that there was another Milton Nunez and Reid had signed the wrong one. I suppose we'll never know the real truth. After his spell in England, he returned to Uruguay side Nacional, who he had left in 1998. Today, Milton plays his football for CSD Comunicaciones who play in the highest league in Guatemala. That's according to wikipedia, how whoever has written that knows where he plays God only knows.