Sunderland finally get successor to Kevin Phillips

IT HAS taken 13 years and 117 rounds of voting until Sunderland could once again boast one of their own as the Barclays Player of the Month.

Steven Fletcher of Sunderland

IT HAS taken 13 years and 117 rounds of voting until Sunderland could once again boast one of their own as the Barclays Player of the Month.

You have to go back to October 1999 when ‘Super’ Kevin Phillips, to give him his full name, picked up the same accolade which Steven Fletcher yesterday received for the month of September.

These are the only two Sunderland players to have been deemed worthy enough of such an award going back to the first time it was handed out in August 1994, with Jürgen Klinsmann one of the famous recipients.

While such baubles are subjective – we will examine some unlikely past winners in a moment – just two winners over 18 years for the club, and so far apart, is not great reading, even taking into account the years spent outside the Premier League.

So Fletcher voted the best player in England for the month just gone is not something that should be dismissed. It is also deserved given that the Scot scored five goals in four Premier League games.

Sunderland sit 13th in the league at the moment. Just imagine where they would be had Martin O’Neill not spent £12m on the striker six weeks ago.

Fletcher scored twice on his debut at Swansea and his form has not dipped since then. Even in the defeat at Manchester City, the striker was one of the very few wearing red and white that gained pass marks.

He said: “It was good to get off on my debut and get a goal. I wanted to hit the ground running, there was a lot of pressure on me coming in to the club.

‘I’m delighted for a little personal award. We have had a good start to the season so hopefully it will continue.

“It’s been great, the players have played really well, and I’m really pleased. It is something that the whole team have strived to get, so thanks to Barclays for giving me this monthly award.”

Fletcher becomes only the third Scot to receive this honour after Duncan Ferguson in February 1995 and then Gary McAllister back in April 2001.

That’s the same amount as Trinidad and Tobago, with Dwight Yorke taking all three.

The Player of the Month winner is always debatable, given the amount of players those who vote have to select from.

Rarely is there a standout candidate, although it has to be said that Fletcher is pretty close to that given how he has started his Black Cats career.

From the list of all past winners, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney lead the way with five wins apiece, with Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dennis Bergkamp, Paul Scholes, Thierry Henry and Frank Lampard next with four.

Few could argue that the above mentioned are the best players in Premier League history.

Manchester United with 30 different awards top the club league, with Arsenal next on 26.

Newcastle United, thanks to Shearer (one of his was in his Blackburn days), Rob Lee (twice), David Ginola and, last December, Demba Ba. But no Peter Beardsley, Tino Asprilla or Les Ferdinand.

Middlesbrough is represented on the 18-year-old list by, and no surprises here, Juninho with just one award, which is a bit more surprising.

And there are some odd names in there.

Peter Odemwingie has been player of the month on three occasions, that’s one more than Giggs, Roy Keane and Robbie Fowler. All of his awards came in the past two seasons.

Has the West Bromwich Albion man really been that good?

If you threw in a rather random name such as Tony Yeboah, voted best player in England during the month of March 1995, it conjures up memories of some of the most spectacular goals ever seen from his brief, and yet exhilarating, Leeds United career.

But Ireland international Mick Evans (he won a single cap) was apparently the Premiership’s top performer in August 1997.

He was at Southampton at the time; the south coast club claiming six player-of-the-month awards over the piece.

If you can remember this guy then you truly are a football scholar. Robbie Earle, Muzzy Izzet, Jimmy Bullard and Dion Dublin all have player-of-the-month trophies somewhere in their garage, loft or that cupboard under the stairs.

Which proves those who choose these things – some of them being journalists and what do they know – don’t just go with the big names from the top clubs.

However, more often than not the votes go to the game’s superstars.

Fletcher’s award is well deserved and, while Sunderland supporters haven’t quite made up their mind about how this season is going to go, they can at least already be proud of this player.

But it would be nice to think that a whole decade won’t pass before it happens again.

 
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