When Jon McLaughlin made his debut on the opening day of this season, little was said about his performance. Granted, he didn’t do a lot wrong but alternatively he also didn’t need to pull off any dramatic stops. This carried on through the open exchanges of the campaign, and even on some occasions he looked ever so slightly suspect. However, this has quickly changed as the matches continue to come thick and fast.
The Scottish keeper has been a major part of Sunderland’s defensive improvements in recent weeks, forming a solid last line and allowing Jack Ross to build his strongest back four in front of him.
There have been several combinations and formations used by Ross already this campaign, but the quartet of Adam Matthews, Jack Baldwin, Tom Flanagan and Reece James looks to be the current solution. Having a solid keeper at his disposal this season has undoubtedly made the defensive conundrum just that bit easier.
It was after these first few matches that we at Roker Report first gave our honest assessments on our new number one. Much of the positivity was backed up by this feeling that we were just desensitised to good goalkeeping; after all it had been months since we last saw a decent keeper in a Sunderland shirt.
It’s refreshing to see Lee Camp is still putting in his usual, terrible performances but for another club. Was it a case of we had too high expectations of McLaughlin when he came? I don’t necessarily think so, especially as his performances have only improved in the last few weeks.
Despite the recent years of dross, Sunderland has always had to call back upon bona fide goalkeeping cult heroes, from the days of old with Monty, all the way up through to the likes of Tommy Sorensen, Mart Poom, Simon Mignolet, Vito Mannone and Jordan Pickford. McLaughlin, if he continues his current upward trajectory, could one day find himself on the very same list.
A further point of note on McLaughlin’s campaign so far is his impressive penalty record. It’s still only October, yet our stopper has kept two spot kicks out already, including being the first Sunderland keeper to save a penalty at the Stadium of Light. Fleetwood’s Paddy Madden saw his effort pushed away to preserve a point for Sunderland what feels like an age ago already back in September.
It is often mentioned in the world of football that a key part of any successful side is a goalkeeper who can single-handedly win his side points. Or rather, save them.
These penalty saves, along with a superb string of stops at Doncaster in midweek and a vastly improved back four, have earned Sunderland two clean sheets in a row for the first time since December 2017. Looking even further back, last time we did so while winning both games was in November 2015.
The weekly saves are just the tip of the iceberg with McLaughlin. Between the sticks he is highly composed and he has cemented his place as Sunderland’s number one. After the goalkeeping nightmare of last season’s ill-fated Championship campaign, it’s a relief to once again have a calm and solid keeper back on Wearside.
Hopefully there is much more to come from our Scottish keeper.