Sunderland's Safe Pairs Of Hands

Michael Regan

Sunderland have boasted a number of notable goalkeepers over the years, many of them made famous by their time on Wearside. If fears of Simon Mignolet's departure are realised, then history suggests the club will find the right replacement.

The number 1 shirt at Sunderland has adorned some of our greatest players. The goalkeeper shirt has a special place on Wearside and it is a position that conjures up glorious images from the past. Naturally, the first to spring to mind is that of Jimmy Montgomery's double save at Wembley in 1973, which was of equal importance to Porterfield's goal. It was a magnificent moment, worthy of gracing any final, and one that earned Monty legendary status on Wearside and a place in FA Cup folklore.

Going further back, Ned Doig, the man between the sticks in the Team of All Talents, was famous not only for his skill at keeping the ball out of the net but for his bald head, hidden by a never removed cap; that is, unless the wind removed it for him. So important was the cap to Doig, he famously ran after it if it was blown from his head, its capture taking precedence over preventing the opposition from scoring. Even allowing for this eccentricity, he was by all accounts a fine stopper.

It's this mixture between unconventionality and quality that has often graced Roker Park and latterly the Stadium of Light. The most recent wearer of the number 1 shirt - in spirit anyway - is Simon Mignolet. Wearing a shirt that has masked the 1 with 22, he was arguably the most important player in staving off relegation last season and with reports circulating that he is set to reject a new contract, there is a growing anxiety that he may leave the club.

Of course, to lose a player of his undoubted quality would be a shame, but a quick glance over Sunderland's recent history suggests supporters should not be too fearful. In recent years, the spirit of Monty and Doig has lived on with only rare instances of the club failing to find a man capable of keeping out the opposition.

Starting with the Belgian, it's perhaps easy to forget that he began life at Sunderland as backup to Craig Gordon before grabbing his chance to make the position his own. Like another favourite to play in goal for the Lads, Thomas Sorensen, Mignolet saved a penalty at St James' Park, a moment that wrote the Belgian into Wearside folklore. Since then, he has gone from strength to strength and he is not the first goalkeeper to be overworked in assisting a struggling Sunderland side to survival.

The man he replaced, Craig Gordon, holds the honour of making the greatest ever Premier League save, as voted for by supporters of all clubs. Although he was often unfairly maligned because of a price tag he did not dictate, the Scot was a very good goalkeeper and that save was genuinely incredible. It is a shame that his career appears to be prematurely over after a series of unpleasant injuries.

The aforementioned Sorensen will always be remembered fondly by supporters of a red and white persuasion in the North East and not just because of that save at St James' Park. He was generally an excellent goalkeeper, probably the pick of the bunch from the last 20 years, making almost 200 appearances for the Lads. Whenever he returns he is given the warm welcome he deserves. He's been adequately replaced over time, but he epitomises what it is to be a Sunderland goalkeeper; plucked from relative obscurity before being recognised at international level.

Sorensen arrived at the club after cult hero Lionel Perez left to ply his trade on Tyneside. The Frenchmen was eccentric and at times erratic but with his unique, flamboyant image he was a firm fans' favourite. He was Sunderland Echo Player of the Year in the 1996/97 season and in the following season was both hero and villain in the Play Offs as the Lads cruelly missed out on promotion. During that season he kept Dutchman Edwin Zoetebier out of the team; a player who would go on to keep goal for Feyenoord in the UEFA Cup final in a match they would go on to win.

Another goalkeeper to swap Wearside for Tyneside - who would incidentally keep Perez away from first team action at St James' Park - was Shay Given. The Irishman was only at the club on loan, but kept an incredible 12 clean sheets in just 17 games on the way to the Division One title, which was a magnificent feat. Unfortunately his rise to prominence ended with his move to Newcastle rather than a permanent transfer to Roker Park but he was yet another goalkeeper plucked from relative obscurity before being put on the map by Sunderland.

Mart Poom also wrote himself into the history books on Wearside. Signed at an odd time by Howard Wilkinson, the Estonian arrived with Thomas Sorensen still on the books, alongside seasoned pro Thomas Mhyre and able backup Jurgen Macho. Given that the team needed to be strengthened just about everywhere else a few eyebrows were raised. Following relegation a goal against Derby County meant that the "Poominator" would be remembered forever.

Poom ended up at Arsenal, somewhat peculiarly, but even stranger still was Jurgen Macho's eventual destination; Chelsea. Despite being kept out of the team by a number of better goalkeepers during his time at the club - most notably Sorensen - it was Macho who got the "big move" rather than the Dane after a short run of albeit impressive performances. It was destined not to work out for him but he can thank Sunderland for the opportunity.

Of course, there have been flops, notably Kelvin Davis. Billed as the best goalkeeper in the Championship during his time with Ipswich, there were high hopes for him when he signed. Unlike some of the other players mentioned here who went on to have a great career at Sunderland and beyond, Davis came with a reputation but failed to live up to it. He was awful and has since slated the supporters for their role in his dreadful displays. Needless to say, there has been little sympathy for him from the Stadium of Light faithful.

Currently at the club and a potential successor to Mignolet, were he to move on, is Keiren Westwood. In his handful of appearances he has looked short of the quality of some of the names mentioned but as opposed to fellow Championship graduate Davis, he has not shown himself to be completely calamitous. If he does not attain first team football soon - with or without Mignolet at the club - the likelihood is he will be looking for first team football elsewhere in an attempt to become Ireland's number 1.

At one time it was hard to see Mignolet becoming the class act he has developed into. Perhaps Westwood would follow suit, or if reports are to be believed, then someone of the calibre of Morgan De Sanctis - despite his advancing years - would be a more than able replacement. Needless to say, Mignolet opting to sign a new contract and staying would be preferable but if that fails to happen, take solace in the fact that goalkeeper is the one position that almost always seems to end up in safe hands on Wearside.

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