It’s fair to say there hasn’t been a great deal to shout about this season at Sunderland, what with one manager losing his job, another under a barrage of pressure, an executive or two leaving the boardroom and protests against the owner. But one of the slight flickers of light comes in the form of winger Lynden Gooch.
The American has been Sunderland’s best player throughout the first half of the season arguably for both managers Jack Ross and Phil Parkinson. Under the latter, Gooch is undoubtedly one of the few who have shone, as he looks to have recaptured some of last season’s early form.
It was one of the mystery conundrums surrounding Sunderland’s failed campaign last year; what has happened to Lynden Gooch? After scoring the winner on the opening day of the season against Charlton Athletic with a diving header Gordon Armstrong would have given the nod of approval to, Gooch racked up a string of good performances over the coming weeks and months.
He was quickly establishing himself as one of Sunderland’s key players in the quest to bounce straight back out of League One and so he should have been. This is a player who has experience in the Premier League and became a regular in the Championship, making 24 appearances under Simon Grayson and Chris Coleman. While the Californian may have flattered to deceive at those higher levels there was a feeling that, much like his academy graduate colleague George Honeyman, if he can’t do it in League One then he’ll never be able to.
Thankfully, he did. Or at least until December. Having rescued a dramatic point at Walsall in late November, Gooch’s form appeared to drop off of the proverbial cliff, he wasn’t alone of course. Although troubled with niggling groin, hamstring and ankle injuries, Gooch became almost a wasted shirt in the second half of last season; running into blind alleys, failing to pass, trying to do too much, trying too hard almost. He even began to add a little bit of the Sebastian Larsson arm throwing into his game as frustration etched all over his and the supporters faces. It perhaps coincided with the latter stages of his partner’s, Talia McKenna, pregnancy and the resultant birth of his first child, Oax Adam Ezra, in February, but his struggles remained.
The summers break however appeared to have reinvigorated Gooch as he looked to cement a spot in Ross’ starting eleven this season in one of the highly contested attacking midfield positions behind the striker. Another opening day goal, this time from the penalty spot against Oxford United, propelled Gooch into a similar vein of form at the start of the campaign despite the team struggling to re-establish themselves as one of the leagues more dominant sides.
As Ross’ side stuttered through the opening weeks and months of the season, Gooch’s form remained one of the few highlights of a troubled start with a string of goals including a spectacular volley at Accrington Stanley. Following Ross’ dismissal Gooch continued his form under new manager Parkinson with a standout performance and goal against Tranmere Rovers, only to be injured again and ruled out until Christmas.
His return from the bench against Blackpool in December was warmly welcomed from supporters in what had been an otherwise chilling number of weeks at the club. A goal at Doncaster Rovers was added to by a brace against Lincoln City on Saturday over the festive period and it is already apparent just how much he has been missed this season.
Seven goals in 17 appearances is a respectable return for the midfielder who will now become arguably ‘the man’ under Parkinson following the ostracising of Aiden McGeady. But it is not just a much-needed eye for goal that Gooch seems to be bringing back to the team, but his exuberance and attitude has been sorely missed. He is chasing down lost balls, running at defenders, jinking one way and then the other, it’s an outlet Sunderland, and Parkinson, have been desperate for.
There has long been a potential with Gooch and his ability. Fans have often been reluctant to write him off despite those two relegation campaigns and faltering season last year. There’s just something about him, that feeling something might just happen when he gets the ball, and that is something supporters hang their hat on when attending the match.
There is a long way to go for the 23-year-old if he is to fulfil the potential he so clearly possesses, and being a key figure in dragging Sunderland back out from the mud in the second half of the season will go a long way to doing so. If Gooch can stay fit and continue firing, then there may just be a chance of the season not being completely flushed away come May.