The past two away games have produced something of a rare find for Sunderland during what has been a largely torturous campaign - clean sheets. They were the first two of the season, and our Dutch goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter deserves his fair share of credit for the upturn in our defensive fortunes.
Signed in the summer after a successful trial following his release from FC Utrecht, Ruiter initially looked fairly decent as Simon Grayson chopped and changed him with another of our summer recruits, Jason Steele. During that brief stint with Grayson at the helm, neither of our keepers were in the side for too long and, in reality, both had periods of woeful form in the early parts of the season.
Since Chris Coleman’s arrival - in which we’ve welcomed him to our club with open arms - Ruiter has been given a much needed fresh start to life on Wearside.
In Coleman’s first four matches Ruiter has produced something of a mixed-bag of performances. At Burton and Wolves he was solid and fully deserved both of his clean sheets. At home to Reading, however, he had what can only be described as an absolute mare - though, in fairness, it was a bad day at the office for all of Sunderland’s players that afternoon, one which was most certainly a massive reality check for a side that were seemingly riding high following the win in the previous week at Burton Albion.
If you were to just look at the last two away trips, you might be able to say that Ruiter is finally settling down.
It’s always hard as a ‘keeper. It’s the hardest position to play in the side and when you make one mistake, you get all of the blame - rightly or wrongly; though in fairness, with the way that our back four has defended at times this season even David De Gea would have had trouble looking good.
If Ruiter can sustain his form between the sticks it’ll please nobody more than Chris Coleman, who was likely expecting to have to dedicate some of his already meagre transfer budget towards bringing in a new man in goal.
Ruiter’s confidence and ability will be tested over what is sure to be a busy and gruelling festive period for Sunderland. The games come thick and fast, and it would be great to see him build on the progress he made at the Pirelli and Molineux with some decent performances, further solidifying his place in the side.
He, like so many others in the squad, needs a strong performance at the Stadium of Light in order for the supporters to gain confidence in his abilities. Who knows - if he can manage a clean sheet, and the team can achieve a much-needed home victory in front of their beleaguered fanbase, it could be the start of a change in fortunes that will see Sunderland set themselves on a path towards salvation.