James McClean: A joy to watch.
We've spoken to him a few times on the site but now we're absolutely delighted to bring you the first of many regular columns from former SAFC wing-wizard, Nick Summerbee.
Once a month we'll be checking in with Nick to give us his exclusive insight on how he's viewed SAFC's performances and other thoughts on the club from throughout the month. So here we have Nick talking about the fantastic draw between us and another of his former sides, Manchester City, plus Nick looks back at the FA Cup game with Everton, and much more!
As said, we're absolutely delighted to bring this to you, so we hope you enjoy it...
I wasn't shocked at all by how well Sunderland performed at Manchester City last week. Since Martin O'Neill arrived the whole place has been completely regenerated. You can see the confidence in the players.
Such was the performance, it would perhaps be unfair to pick just one particular player out at The Etihad. The goals were fantastic. To take four points from City this season and be disappointed it wasn't six just shows what Sunderland are capable of doing.
The real let down, however, was the Everton game. I just had a feeling that Sunderland might have made it to Wembley, but it wasn't Sunderland's day at all. Everton imposed themselves on the game from start to finish. The frustration is that Sunderland, over the course of a season, are a better team than Everton. Sometimes you take to the pitch and just can't get yourselves going.
It reminded me a little of when we played Everton when we were flying. We went to Goodison and thought it was going to be an easy game, but it's rarely the case and we ended up getting beaten 5-0. May be there was a bit of that going on but it's always a tough game against Everton.
One man who very seldom disappoints, however, is James McClean. I love a winger. To me there is nothing better in football. When I used to cross a ball and someone scored from it felt as good as scoring a goal myself. You can see that in McClean too. That's what he wants to do. Defending is an art, scoring goals is one of the hardest arts of the lot, but to put a quality ball in the box is an art as well.
He is just a player who gets bums off seats. The ball is passed around an awful lot in football, so someone so direct as McClean stands out like a sore thumb. He is obviously very raw and nowhere near the same level, but it's like when you watch someone like Ronaldo or Messi – these players who run at people and have a go and really do it with conviction, and if it doesn't happen the first time they'll keep doing it.
You find some wingers who can run with the ball but not cross it, and others who can cross a ball but not carry it, but McClean has all that. You want him to get the ball because he is so exciting.
He is still learning, of course, so people shouldn't allow themselves to get too carried away. You can only really see him getting better, though. You have to look at when Lee Sharpe and Ryan Giggs broke into the Manchester United team. At the time, Lee Sharpe was a much better crosser of the ball. Giggs used to cross it behind the goal all the time, but he has become an unbelievable crosser of the ball. The more players play the more they learn. In time, McClean will learn to just take a moment to slow down a fraction before delivering the ball and take that little bit of extra time to get the cross perfect.
I do think that the Sunderland forwards could do more to help him out, though. I always knew I had Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips in the box whenever I made half a yard a whip a ball in there. Nicklas Bendtner is a big strong lad who could be like a Quinny, but he doesn't ever really impose himself on defenders. He doesn't really make his presence felt or give you the impression he is willing to battle against them. He's a big lad who can score goals and he can cause problems to anybody, but he has to go out and prove it. When McClean gets the ball, both he and Sessegnon have to suss out that they need to get in the box and start doing it on a more regular basis.
Despite the cup exit, there is no reason why Sunderland's season should simply fizzle out. The season could have been all doom and gloom and a real relegation battle, but Martin O'Neill has been brilliant for the club and provided it with something to build upon. By now he'll know what needs to be done in the summer
Next week's game against Spurs could be a really good one. Tottenham have had a dip in form and now know they have to finish the season well to get into the Champions League. But Sunderland are a big test for anyone. The crowd are buzzing and you can see the confidence in the players. You look at someone like Phil Bardsley, for example, and he is just oozing with confidence. Sunderland can look to win this game and set up a strong end to the season, and I think that's exactly what they'll do.
Nick's doing regular appearances around the North East, usually with Mickey Gray and Chris Makin, providing top banter and chat. He's going to be somewhere on the 29th of April, although he forgot to actually tell us, so the best thing you can do is follow him on Twitter - @Summerbee7 for all the details.
If you're in the North West, you'll find him in Preston on July 8th doing some after dinner speaking too. Not to mention if you're looking to book the man himself for your event, contact Still Sports Media (CLICK HERE) and they can help you out.
Also keep an eye on the Still Sports Media YouTube Page, on there you'll see Nick bringing you some absolutely quality banter, plus the hilarious "Summerbee Karaoke Challenge"... Get Watching HERE