In the past few decades, Sunderland have had some great keepers and Jon McLaughlin is hopefully well on the way to being the next on the list.
Sunderland has a history of great goalkeepers, from Jim Montgomery, whose amazing double save helped us win the FA Cup in 1973, to Jordan Pickford becoming England’s number one, it’s been a position of great success. Chris Turner, Thomas Sorenson, Mart Poom, Vito Mannone and Simon Mignolet are also names Sunderland fans have fond memories of.
However, last season Sunderland fans almost forgot what it was like to have a competent goalkeeper. We were awful in so many respects, but none more so than in goal. Lee Camp, Jason Steele and Robbin Ruiter all played significant minutes in a horrendous relegation campaign. Lee Camp was brought in to help the club survive from January onwards, but unfortunately proved to be the worst keeper of the lot, which took some doing.
Following the takeover, a keeper was high on the list of transfer priorities and so Jon McLaughlin was brought in from Hearts on a free transfer. You could argue has been Sunderland’s best signing this season.
The new owners have done so well when bringing in players for limited, or no money. Jon McLaughlin and Chris Maguire have been two brilliant examples of this. The ability to sign experienced pros at this level, just shows how well the recruitment team at the club have done in such a short space of time.
McLaughlin is no stranger to English football and has played over 200 times for Bradford and Burton collectively. He’s slotted into the Sunderland team seamlessly and has quickly become one of the leaders in a relatively young side.
The Scotland international was relatively unknown to Sunderland fans but was named in the SPFA team of the year last season after a fine campaign with Hearts. This prompted Jack Ross to bring him in and it's looking evident that Sunderland now have a keeper who can perform not only in League One, but also the Championship, when we hopefully get back there.
During the first few games of the campaign the Scot may not have set the world alight, but it was clear to see he was a solid stopper. But from October onwards, his confidence has grown, and his defence has been more settled. He has been outstanding and was rewarded for his form when he collected the club’s player of the month award.
We’ve gone from having keepers who were costing us points, to a number one who is winning the team games. Performances against Doncaster and Plymouth have been prime examples of what the Scotsman can do. He was called upon to make big saves on multiple occasions to either keep the scores level or to keep the team in the lead.
What Sunderland have desperately needed over the past few seasons is leaders. There have been far too many players who weren’t willing to grab the bull by the horns and lead by example. With his vast playing experience, McLaughlin has brought this, he is the leader of the back line and after last season’s goalkeeping horror show, the Sunderland defence now, finally, have a goalkeeper they can trust.
Who knows what might happen with McLaughlin in his Sunderland future, but he will go down in the club’s history books. He was the first Sunderland player to save a penalty at the Stadium of Light which came against Fleetwood, as he denied Paddy Madden and he followed up that act by saving another spot kick at Bradford!