BIRMINGHAM ENGLAND - JANUARY 18: Darren Bent speaks to the media during a press conference to announce him signing for Aston Villa at Villa Park on January 18 2011 in Birmingham England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Ah, so that's how it is. Lumbered with the last spot of the week, on a Friday, when everyone's finished early and sodding off from work sharpish so they can go out and get merry tonight, and noone's gonna bloody read this. Is that all I'm worth to you?
Only kidding. Hi there, I'm Chris Weatherspoon, your resident tactical expert and Roker Reliver. Well, I say tactical 'expert'. That's what Simon thought it'd be wise to call me when we first started out with Talking Tactics at the beginning of February, talk about pressure eh?
It's been an interesting season following Sunderland for me. With all the fanfare and excitement of the first half of the year descending into the usual post-Christmas misery, following and getting involved with the Roker Report provided a much needed antidote to the pain of recent months. Hell, I've even been on a podcast, talking bollocks about football that will for once reach ears outside the confines of The Howard Arms at 2pm on a Saturday.
The site has grown fantastically since its small beginnings back in December, something which is testament to the effort Simon puts in each and every day. Combined with the fantastic work of the other guys he's managed to entice (drag) on board, we'll hopefully see this place go from strength to strength in the future.
Anyway, I've only prattled on this much because I got told I had to, so let's get down to business...
Player Of The Season?
Chris: Had the season finished on Christmas Day and I'd been immediately asked this question, I'd have politely ignored it and walked away, unable to select one player from a plethora of candidates. As it was, the season didn't end on the twenty-fifth of December, and that's why I wasn't quizzed about this then.
The majority of Sunderland fans will no doubt have gone for Phil Bardsley...and I'm no different. Masterfully disguising the fact he's been played out of position all season, the warrior (let's face it, he's hard as nails) from Salford was perhaps the only man whose level of performance barely dropped, even in our torrid run. He was certainly the only one to escape from the Halloween debacle with a semblance of self-pride still intact. Notable mentions for Titus Bramble and Asamoah Gyan, but Bardo gets my, and probably everyone else's, vote.
Young Player Of The Season?
Chris: Tricky this, considering they're all young. By that token, I should be giving Bardsley this too, right? But nah, for the purposes of this question we'll say his twenty-five years of age are much too many, and I'll plump for Jordan Henderson instead. Controversial, maybe, but I'd say that was more down to excessive expectations than anything else.
Starting out like a house on fire, the local lad will hopefully be the first of many successful academy products. Even in his 'bad run' I don't think he was particularly bad, he just fell victim to the hype he'd deservedly garnered for himself in the first half of the season. His assist for Asamoah's debut goal away at Wigan back in September was simply sublime, whilst his recent virtuoso display in the vital win against...err, Wigan, showed to me that he could well become a leading star for the club in the years to come.
Best Signing Of The Season?
Chris: Can I give this out as joint award? No? Well, I'm going to anyway. Firstly, Titus Bramble. I distinctly remember being on a freezing cold golf course at Seahouses when I heard news of our first summer signing. Perhaps it was just the North Sea breeze, but a shiver edged its way firmly down my spine. Whatever it was, I needn't have worried. The man we all once mocked has been a revelation, with clean sheets coming in abundance, and it is no coincidence that his injury problems coincided with our sudden willingness to ship goals. One million quid? Dave Whelan must still be kicking himself.
Sharing the platform with Titus is a man I'd wager only the most avid of Belgian football aficionados had heard of prior to this season. Simon Mignolet, thrust in at the deep end on the opening day, has been excellent ever since. Saving us (no pun intended) on countless occasions, The Mig has well and truly stated his claim for a starting place even when Craig Gordon is fit. How refreshing it is to see two top-class goalkeepers on our books, especially when looking back at the performances of Messrs. Fulop, Ingham and Davis. **shudder**
Worst Player Of The Season?
Chris: I always find this question hard; those who were truly shite will probably have scarcely played enough for it to be fair to give an informed opinion. Stuff it, it's Cristian Riveros. Paulo Da Silva has shown that performing well for Paraguay is entirely different from performing well in the Premier League and, unfortunately, his countryman has done little to dispel this. Too slow, doesn't get involved enough; get rid, Brucey. (NB. I wrote this before he scored our final goal of the season...I stand by my original sentiments.)
Most Disappointing Signing Of The Season?
Chris: Hmm. I suppose based on my last answer I should say Riveros. But I'm all for variety in these kinds of things, so I'll go for Marcos Angeleri. With the departure of Lorik Cana, the club was missing a man with divine hair, so I guess the Argentinian's arrival made sense. Unfortunately, that's the only thing that really made sense about him this season. Entirely unconvincing in the few on-field minutes he's amassed, it wouldn't surprise me if his flowing locks never again brush delicately against a Sunderland shirt.
Goal Of The Season?
Chris: A few contenders, I reckon. Gyan's last minute equaliser against the Mags, made even better by how bloody lucky it was. His first goal, at Wigan, stemming from excellent work by Jordan Henderson. Bardsley's abundance of screamers. Any one of the goals at Chelsea (Welbeck's is included for how much I enjoyed Ashley Cole having a nightmare).
But no, I think I'll plump for Henderson's first at home to Wigan last month. Devoid of strikers and needing a win to keep the hounds of relegation from the door, his unstoppable half volley was one of my moments of the season. Lashed home with startling venom, it was a goal that brought 40,000 to their feet in a mixture of relief and glee. The sheer importance of that goal wins it for me.
Game Of The Season?
Chris: Haway, there's no contest here is there? November 14th, 2010, Chelsea 0, Sunderland 3. I could leave it there and it would speak for its self, but I'd rather wax lyrical. Quite simply the greatest performance I have ever seen from a Sunderland side. I'm only twenty, so perhaps that isn't saying a lot, but this was a day where we truly battered the champions. Better than them in every way from the first until the last; from Onuoha's amazing dribble, through Gyan's exquisite finish (don't forget Bolo's dancing), to Welbeck sealing it all late on; from one to eleven I've never experienced anything greater in red and white shirts. Such was the magnitude and shock of this game that I celebrated accordingly; forcible removable from two pubs and a kebab shop could do nothing to dampen my spirits.
Out of ten, what would you rate Steve Bruce’s performance as manager this season?
Chris: Err...7. Not unlike a Dan Brown book, Bruce's season started pretty well, then turned really really rubbish, before getting a bit better at the end but not living up to its earlier promise. That's a crap analogy, but you know what I mean. Questions must be asked about why we keep falling into these slumps, and especially about how we're amassing so many injuries. But the first half of this season was one full of more hope than I've known in my footballing lifetime; it might not quite have been met, but it's a damn sight better than what we've had to put up with over the last few decades, that's for sure.
Which one moment summed up SAFC’s entire season?
Chris: I'm afraid this is a bit of a negative one, but I'm gonna have to go for the moment Darren Bent upped sticks and holed himself up Bin Laden-style in a Birmingham hotel room. Looking back, it seems to perfectly encapsulate our season. Had he not departed, and left us staggeringly devoid of attacking options, I firmly believe we'd have finished comfortably in the top ten, perhaps even in a European spot. Instead, wor Darren gave a symbolic V-sign to the lot of us, and our season crumbled quicker than Nick Clegg's poll numbers.
Of the loanees this season, which if any would you like to see stay permanently?
Chris: If I'm honest, all of them. We've already tied down Elmo, so that's a no-brainer. Danny Welbeck is excellent; we'd be foolish not to at least try and get him back here for good. The same goes for Nedum Onuoha. Shakey at times, but still young and learning, I think he could become a top player for us if our friends down at Manchester City are willing to cut him loose. As for John Mensah, I'd originally have said no, as he's more brittle than my eighty year-old Nana. But the News of the World reckons we can get him for the relatively paltry sum of £1 million, so what the hell.
Shit, I forgot about Muntari. I'm kind of undecided on him so far, therefore I'd say try him out on loan again if possible. If not, move on.
Which player should be first out the door in the summer?
Chris: Take your pick. Angeleri, Riveros, McCartney, Nosworthy, Kilgallon. All available to the highest bidder. Actually, can we just pay other teams to take them off us?
Give us one player you think SAFC simply must buy this summer (within reason)...
Chris: I was all set to say Charles N'Zogbia. Then I remembered we have no strikers. A pretty big issue, I think you'll agree. So, with that in mind, I've been ambitious and suggested we go down to White Hart Lane and refuse to leave without Roman Pavlyuchenko. I've always rated him, and he seems to score in the majority of games he plays. Furthermore I can see him working well with Gyan, in a way that will encourage us to keep the ball on the floor, as opposed to the much tried, much failed tactics of hoofing it. N'Zogbia and Scott Parker would be nice too, mind.
What was your personal highlight of the season, something we might not know about?
Chris: I've already mentioned it, but my own individual celebrations post-Chelsea will always be a source of personal pride. Situated at university, 200 miles from home and not a Sunderland fan in sight, I think I successfully flew the red and white flag that day. An essay deadline for the following day was quickly ignored once Danny knocked in the third, ditched in favour of a trip to the bar. Dragging Arsenal and Liverpool supporting mates into the equation, over the next six hours or so our alcohol expenditure almost single-handedly dragged the country out of a recession. Multiple renditions of Sunderland-related songs combined with the aforementioned pub and takeaway ejections later, I retired to bed in a state of perfect happiness.
And finally, any other thoughts or comments on how you feel the season went?
Chris: I'd say I've probably rambled on far too much already, so there's not really much left to say. However, I'm the last guy to answer these questions, so I suppose it's fitting we go out with a bang.
Err...see you next season?
Provided you aren't thoroughly sick of me by now, you can join me on Twitter @christoph_21 for all things Sunderland, some things political, and most things pointless.