Sunderland have had a strange season so far.
After their failure to be promoted from League One, Phil Parkinson is once again struggling to get his side going.
The Black Cats are eight points off top spot and any thought of gaining an automatic promotion spot seems far-fetched. That being said, it’s fairly evident that Parkinson’s side are a cut above the rest off the field.
It almost defies belief that a club of Sunderland’s side are languishing in the third tier of English football.
They have the biggest stadium, Premier League training facilities and high-class academy status.
On top of that, the money they have is greater than every single team in the division. It doesn’t take a genius to suggest they should be competing in a higher league.
Though, for various reasons, they are now spending a third successive campaign at this level.
The ownership has been questionable but Parkinson has also struggled with the club’s tactics and getting Sunderland to play a desirable system of football.
It’s a team that lacks creativity, goal scorers and pace. Thus, did he throw his best chance of gaining promotion away last season? When you look at one player they had in their ranks, the answer is yes.
Back in January, Stewart Donald promised Parkinson that he’d have money to spend. Obviously, that wasn’t strictly true.
Sunderland signed Kyle Lafferty on a free transfer and brought in both Declan John and Antoine Semenyo on loan deals. Clearly, the kitty was not ready for too many permanent acquisitions.
For now, though, we’re going to focus on Semenyo.
The Bristol City winger signed temporary terms at the Stadium of Light but was afforded just one start, a 2-0 defeat against Bristol Rovers. That’s surprising when you consider the lively cameos he had from the bench and Parkinson’s praise.
Speaking about Semenyo last term, he said: “He’s picked up what he needs to do to play in that system.”
The boss continued: “Ant has been great to work with, he is making the runs we want him to make and getting into the areas where he can be dangerous.”
Therefore, it’s incredibly peculiar to think he didn’t start more often. Sunderland’s attack needed extra firepower and here was a Championship calibre player staring them point-blank in the face.
You only need to look at his form since returning to the Robins in the division above this season to realise the talent they had in their arsenal.
Semenyo has been first-class and has now registered three assists in his last four games. In total, the 20-year-old wizard has created four goals for his teammates this season, which for context is unmatched by anyone in the Sunderland squad besides Lyndon Gooch.
After Parkinson banished Aiden McGeady from the first-team picture, he needed an electric winger to turn on the style. He didn’t look towards Semenyo and judging by his performances in the Championship, it was a disastrous call.
Yes, he may not have had much time to settle in at the Stadium of Light, but for a team lacking pace, he was an obvious answer.
He could have lit up League One and fired the Black Cats to promotion.