Opinion – Max Power will likely achieve another promotion this season – I just wish it was with Sunderland!

Sunderland visit Wigan Athletic at the weekend, and will line up against former skipper Max Power. Jonny Lambert looks back at his time at Sunderland and wonders what could have been

For some, the name Max Power refers to a 90’s boy-racer car magazine, or even a hero alter-ego of Homer Simpson – but for us Sunderland fans it’s a reminder of what we once had.

Power was signed for Sunderland at the start of the 2018/19 campaign under the management of Jack Ross. The hope was that he’d add some life into a midfield that contained an ageing Lee Cattermole, and would bring his promotion pedigree with him that would see us drag ourselves back into the dizzy heights of the EFL Championship.

The latter did not happen, but as we go to Wigan Athletic this weekend, where Power once again is on the payroll, lets take a dive into Max Power the person, the footballer, and his time on Wearside.

Now like many fans when a new player signs, it’s straight onto YouTube seeking a musical montage of great goals from the players time at a previous club. And with Power it didn’t disappoint, as he had previous for many a rocket from outside the box. Couple that and his tenacity and the success he’d already had, I was excited to see him in red and white.

Max McAuley Power is a Wirral lad, growing up on the mean streets of Birkenhead, and very much a family man, with a wife and two young children. He captained his beloved Tranmere Rovers at every age group since he was just eight years old. He turned down a move to Merseyside giants Liverpool in favour of his home town club, so was displaying loyalty as well as leadership even from such a young age.

Having made his Tranmere league debut at just 18 in 2011, Power became a regular starter during their 2012/13 campaign and never looked back after that. That was of course until 25th April 2015 when in a crucial match against Plymouth Argyle where, despite scoring in the game, Power gave a vital penalty away and the Super White Army were relegated out of the Football League. That ended a 94-year tenure for Tranmere in the EFL, and was the catalyst for the club to sell their best assets as they prepared for life in the Conference.

This is where Power got his move to League One Wigan Athletic, and the 2015/16 season is where he achieved the holy grail of promotion on his CV. Playing 44 games in that season, contributing six goals, Power was now an established midfielder ready for the challenge of the Championship. (That year Will Grigg was the league’s top scorer with 25 goals, remember him?).

Sadly for Power this was to be his only season in the Championship as Wigan went straight back down to League One, having been nine points adrift of safety when the final whistle blew on the 2016/17 season. But like the proverbial yoyo Wigan bounced straight back up in 2018, in a season Power barely missed a minute of – now the CV read two promotions out of League One! (you get the narrative here).

Power’s hopes of another year in the Championship were soon dashed when Paul Cook brought in midfielder Lee Evans from Sheffield United, restricting Power’s pathway to a starting place. After just one appearance in 2018/19 Power agreed to explore pastures new and on the last knockings of the August deadline day, a move to Sunderland was made.

Owing to the late nature of the signing, it was beyond the time frame for a permanent move (well done Stewart & Charlie), so Power initially came in on loan (this deal would later be made permanent in the January window). It was a tough farewell for Power who wrote an emotional open letter to the Wigan fans, another sign of the loyalty held by the player, and desire to play football matches.

It’s fair to say that Power’s start on Wearside was mixed, as the results were good, and a couple of goals were thrown in too against Scunthorpe in the cup and Gillingham in the league. However for three consecutive months Power was shown red cards, which is bizarre when you think that he’s never seen red in the rest of his entire 11-year career to date, outside of this crazy autumn.

The first red card came against Oxford United in his first month, which saw him receive a three game ban. However owing to the ridiculous running of the EFL, it was effectively a four game ban as Power was not allowed to play against Stoke City U21’s in the Checkatrade Trophy, despite it not counting towards his suspension.

Jack Ross was particularly vocal about this at the time, as clubs were encouraged to take this competition seriously and field first team players. The second was at Bradford City where he stupidly kicked out (and missed) Ryan McGowan. He also gave away a penalty in this game, but fortunately for him and the side, big Jon McLaughlin saved the spot kick and we went on to win 2-1.

Finally and most controversially, Power got a red at Walsall in November in what looked like a 50/50 that Liam Kinsella came worse off in. I was at the game and at the time it looked like Power was actually the one fouled, footage later showed he was innocent and the FA rightly rescinded the card. A relief for the club and player alike, as due to his previous convictions, Power was in line to receive a five-game ban.

Power didn’t start the Checkatrade Trophy final against Portsmouth, with veterans Lee Cattermole and Grant Leadbitter preferred on the day. He did, however, come on and slam home a penalty in the shootout – we know what happens next, ah well, Trafalgar was fun. And back there we were for the play-off final some 56 days later where this time Power started in a three man central midfield, but it was to be another sad walk back down Wembley Way.

The 2019/20 season saw Power get made captain, as his natural leadership was recognised by a now under pressure Jack Ross. The season had started inconsistently and with that Ross was sacked, and in came captain charisma Phil Parkinson, leading us to very predicable dull performances.

It was this negativity that appeared to stifle Power’s approach, where we would keep hold of the ball and seldom move it forwards. We also weren’t getting the goals we had hoped for from Power, and when Covid landed, the season was cut short after just 36 games, despite the Championship and Premier League completing their seasons.

On PPG we took Wycombe’s place in eighth and they duly got promoted, via the play-offs, a kick in the teeth given nearly all our remaining fixtures were bottom half teams. Power played 36 games in all competitions, scoring three goals, one of which was a complete thunderbastard against Sheffield United away in the Carabao Cup. Another was a 97th minute equaliser at home to Fleetwood Town, much to the dismay of Joey Barton and his “celebrating against little old Fleetwood” pony.

2020/21 was to be Power’s last season at the Stadium of Light, which saw him chalk up 53 appearances in all competitions. Power also contributed with six goals, the most famous being his strike against Oxford United at home which led to Power doing a full double knee slide in front of Karl Robinson and the away dugout. This was in response to the dogs abuse Power received for his red at Oxford in previous seasons, and was fuelling the flames for another tunnel straightener.

In the March of 2021 we reached the Papa John’s Trophy final against his beloved Tranmere, and Power was able to lead the lads to a 1-0 victory, thanks to a killer pass by Aiden McGeady leading to a Lynden Gooch goal. Of course, this was in front of an empty Wembley Stadium given the state controlled restrictions at the time.

We ended the season in fourth having lost the least amount of games in the league, but drawing a massive 17 games, part under Lee “you won’t see many draws” Johnson. A play-off semi-final ensued against Lincoln City in which I can still hear in my living room the cries of WMS’s very own Jimmy Reay screaming “don’t shoot, don’t shoot, don’t shoot” in fear of Power trying to recreate Stevie Gerrard’s FA Cup heroics some years back.

Sadly, his 40-yard attempt did not lead to the all-important goal, and that was to be his last contribution in a Sunderland shirt. Power later received a lot of online vitriol for this, which on reflection wasn’t very fair at all.

To see him let go in the annual summer clearance sale was some surprise to a lot of fans, maybe the fact his contract had expired made the 59% decide to pinch a few pennies and keep him off the wage bill. Either way, our loss is Wigan’s gain as they snapped him up and currently sit pretty with two games in hand to go top of the league and achieve a third promotion out of League One.

For me, I wanted more out of Max Power, I wanted great goals, I wanted forward movement and to play with a certain freedom. On reflection it looks more likely that Power was simply following orders in a “give the ball to Geads” era, under managers such as Parkinson who failed to inspire.

Would I have him back now? In a heartbeat. He represents all that we lack at the moment; fitness, consistency, leadership, bottle, promotion, experience. He demanded more out of his players, and he’d certainly fill that black hole in the middle of the park that we currently have too.

Power averages over an 11 year career just shy of 46 games per full season, which shows a great commitment to personal fitness and availability, and significantly a lack of injuries. We don’t even have a goalkeeper currently that can manage that many games in a season.

Power will always be the player that finally after 48 years lifted a trophy at Wembley, albeit one of far less prestige. We wish you well, but please have a shocker on Saturday and let us make it three out of three against the Latics this season.