While beginning the 2021/22 season with hopes of promotion back to the Championship, Sunderland has seen their chances for automatic promotion wavering with recent results which has ultimately led to the sacking of manager Lee Johnson.
The Black Cats did some important business during the January transfer window, including signing former player and Sunderland fan-favourite Jermain Defoe from Rangers where he has been since 2020.
Outside of the goal-scoring of Scotland international Ross Stewart, who leads the team with 18 goals, the team is averaging less than a goal per game over their last four matches. Nathan Broadhead received positive rehabilitation news as he recovers from a hamstring injury, but he is a distant second on the Sunderland team in goal-scoring with seven under his belt. Daniel Neil and Alex Pritchard setup the goals, with the two players combining for 16 assists in the season, while Elliot Embleton has posted four goals and five assists.
The Black Cats were scoring goals for fun to close the 2021 calendar year, with an average of more than two goals per game in December, but now have scored just more than one goal in a game once since the start of 2022.
A player that has been heralded by fans and pundits for his on and off the pitch success, Jermain Defoe completed his return to Sunderland from Scottish Premiership champions Rangers on the final day of the January 2022 transfer window.
The striker had previously played at Sunderland from 2015-17, sparking one of the most inspirational friendships in football when he met and developed a true friendship with Bradley Lowery, a young boy who was terminally ill in Defoe’s time on Wearside.
The former England international began his illustrious career at West Ham United in 1999, spending four seasons with the Hammers until 2004, where he scored 29 goals in 93 appearances for the club. In 2004, he made the first of what would eventually become three total moves including a loan stint with Tottenham Hotspur, first serving with the club from 2004 until 2008, and scoring more than 40 goals in over 130 appearances for Spurs across all competitions. Further stops for Defoe included Portsmouth (2008-09), Toronto FC (2014) of MLS and eventually Sunderland for the first time in 2015. With the Black Cats during his first time at the club, Defoe scored in excess of 35 goals across more than 90 games in all competitions. He would complete a second move to Bournemouth in 2017, staying on the south coast until 2020, while also serving a loan spell at Rangers in Scotland. During the 2020/21 season at Rangers under former manager Steven Gerrard, Defoe helped Rangers capture the Scottish Premiership title and deny Celtic a chance at a 10th consecutive league title. On the international level for England, he was capped more than 50 times between 2004-17, including competing at each of the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cup games.
Elliot Embleton is a youth academy graduate of Sunderland and signed his first professional contract with the club in 2017.
During the 2016/17 season, he was named on the bench for the Black Cats first team in the Premier League in six games, while serving the majority of his time with the Sunderland U23 side that same season. He would later make his first team debut for the Black Cats in December 2017, coming on as an injury-time substitute late in the game as part of a 0-0 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In August 2018, Embleton joined Grimsby Town on loan until January 2019, scoring four goals in 27 appearances during that span. In February 2021, he joined Blackpool on loan until the end of the 2020/21 season. On the international front, Embleton has played for each of the England U17, U18, U19 and U20 teams. For the England U20 team, he scored in a semi-final match of the 2017 Toulon Tournament against Scotland. He went on to convert his penalty in a shoot-out during England’s win over the Ivory Coast to capture the tournament championship. For Sunderland this season, Embleton is tied for fourth on the squad with four goals scored, while being tied for third with five assists. He leads all Black Cats performers with 110 deliveries off crosses, while going on to collect 11 tackles won in defence alongside five interceptions.
Ross Stewart arrived to the Stadium of Light in January 2021, signing for an undisclosed fee. He has been nicknamed the “Loch Ness Drogba” by Sunderland supporters, alluding to his Scottish ancestry. Since his arrival to the Stadium of Light, he has played in more than 35 games and scored in excess of 15 goals for the Black Cats. Prior to Sunderland, Stewart played three seasons in his home country of Scotland for Ross County, helping the club win promotion to the Scottish Premiership following the 2018/19 season. He would complete his first season at Ross County by scoring 11 goals across all competitions. Stewart began his senior career with Albion Rovers in July 2016, spending one season at the club before moving to Scottish Championship side St. Mirren for the 2017/18 season. He would be loaned to Alloa Athletic in Scottish League One for the latter part of the season, where he would score seven goals in 19 games. For Sunderland during the current 2021/22 season, Stewart is one of the top goal scorers in Sky Bet League One, while leading the Black Cats in that department with 18 goals across all competitions. He has recorded 40 of his 95 shots on target for 42.1% average shots on target ratio. He is averaging 3.04 shots per game with 1.28 shots on target per match. He is one of the team’s leaders with a 0.43 goals per shots on target average as well.
Midfielder Carl Winchester is a Northern Ireland international that can also play as a right-back when required. The Belfast native signed for Sunderland in January 2021, initially on a two-and-a-half year deal. Prior to his arrival at the Stadium of Light, Winchester played three seasons for Forest Green Rovers (2018-21) where he scored 10 goals in more than 100 career appearances for the club.
In January 2017, he completed a free transfer to Cheltenham Town from Oldham Athletic, where he had played from 2010-17. He was capped in more than 120 games for Oldham, scoring double-digit goals in the process. He scored his first goal for the club on in May 2011, in the last game of the 2010/11 season. It would not be until the 2014/15 season before Winchester solidified himself as a regular in the first team line-up. As an international footballer, Winchester played for the Northern Ireland National Team on almost every level from U16 through U21 from 2010 through 2014.
This season with Sunderland, Winchester has started in 28 matches, while playing in 30 matches overall. He has netted three goals from his midfield position, while also assisting on one goal. He has registered 27 crosses into the box, adding 32 interceptions and a team-most 51 tackles won in defence.