Has John McLaughlin been Sunderland AFC’s best player this season?
A quick glance through the Roker Report’s Power Rankings shows McLaughlin has been champion twice, in the top five for the past two months and only dropped outside our top ten once.
His consistency is unrivaled in the Mackems’ ranks and our clash at Plymouth Argyle was just another example of how valuable our Scottish stopper has become. He made two momentum changing saves in the one period where the Pilgrims dominated, just after Aiden McGeady’s brilliant individual goal.
Jack Ross’ men won at Home Park because they were decisive in both penalty boxes and just as crucial as McLaughlin’s top-class interventions were McGeady’s dynamite finishes.
His solo run was typical of the way every game one Wearsider seems to step-up and make a match winning contribution. Not many League One sides have players of McGeady’s quality who can bury tough long-range chances with the regularity the Republic of Ireland international has throughout his career.
George Honeyman and Dylan McGeouch formed an unlikely midfield partnership on Saturday and were vital in helping the lads clinch a sixth straight victory.
Honeyman was brilliant linking play between midfield and attack and helping relieve pressure on Sunderland in a cagey well contested first-half.
McGeouch was equally impressive taking on more defensive responsibility in Lee Cattermole’s absence, whilst keeping possession under pressure on several occasions. Both players displayed phenomenal energy and infectious determination throughout, that typified Sunderland’s gritty away performance. As a result, both claim season-high rankings this week.
Bali Mumba signed his first contract as a professional footballer, signing up for three more years at the Stadium of Light. He capped a great week with his fourth appearance of the season, with youngster back in Ross’ first-team plans he’s vaulted back into our top 20.
1: Jon McLaughlin (2) - He was so good on Saturday that the Plymouth media officer forgot the rules of football. Deservedly top of the chart for a second time.
2: Aiden McGeady (9) - We’ve been waiting for a performance like this from McGeady all season. He’s been in and out of the first-team since returning from injury and this was our first reminder of his game-changing ability.
3: George Honeyman (8) - His great form since being benched at Shrewsbury continues. In a first half where Sunderland struggled to create quality openings Honeyman looked the most likely to create a game-winning chance, he also competed excellently throughout.
4: Dylan McGeouch (10) - Reaches the top five for the first time after his best game in Sunderland colours. He produced a complete midfield performance and leaves Ross with a tough choice to make in terms of who is his preferred two starting deep-lying midfielders going forward.
5: Tom Flanagan (3) - Had a ‘Wes Brown’ game - for most of the match he looked like the best defender on the pitch, and then on two or three occasions he made potentially costly, baffling errors. It’s a testament to how good he was for 95% of the game that he remains in the top five.
6: Chris Maguire (1) - Drops out the top five after a sub-par performance. Maguire was guilty of playing to the crowd, taking a series of ridiculous low-percentage shots, and might well pay the price in hunting for individual glory when Ross picks his FA Cup line-up.
7: Jack Baldwin (7) - Helped the team to a fourth straight clean sheet. Like Flanagan he had his nervy moments but, like the ex-Burton Albion man, he also deserves credit for shutting out an in-form Plymouth side.
8: Lynden Gooch (5) - The American international was involved in some of Sunderland’s brightest moments in Plymouth, but Gooch drops out of the top five as he was well below his unstoppable best.
9: Adam Matthews (11) - Another player in great form; he seems to have fully rediscovered his belief and technical quality after a slow start to the season.
10: Reece James (13) - Another stellar performance from James, who has been one of Sunderland’s most reliable players ever since Brian Oviedo’s suspension gave him a chance to make the starting left-back spot his own.
11: Luke O’Nien (14) - O’Nien is fast becoming Sunderland’s ‘12th man’ - his energy off the bench and ability to torment tiring defenders is becoming an invaluable asset for Ross, and this week his efforts won the lads a vital penalty.
12: Lee Cattermole (4) - Sat out after playing through injury the prior week. Catts now faces stiff competition from Max Power, McGeouch and potentially Honeyman for a starting spot in the FA Cup tie against Port Vale.
13: Jerome Sinclair (6) - Drops out the top ten after losing his starting spot to Josh Maja, Sinclair worked hard as a substitute at Home Park, but failed to add to his lowly goals tally.
14: Josh Maja (12) - Failed to take his chance after being favoured ahead of Sinclair. Played with a maddening passivity throughout, maybe partly due to his niggling ankle problem.
15: Denver Hume (15) - Still out injured.
16: Glenn Loovens (16) - Made the bench for the first time since his injury at Coventry, our veteran defender is likely to be getting some game time in one of our two cup clashes.
17: Bali Mumba (22) - Almost instantly after news broke that our teenage sensation had signed an extension at Sunderland the speculation started linking him with ‘big six’ Premier League clubs. For now he’s back in our top twenty as he continues to take his first steps in the professional game at Sunderland.
18: Alim Ozturk (17) - Kept his place in our matchday squad despite the return of Loovens, the Turkish defender will be hoping to get some well-needed game time in our cup matches.
19: Robbin Ruiter (18) - Ross chose to keep McLaughlin between the sticks in the League Cup. It will be interesting to see whether our Scottish tactician has enough confidence in Ruiter now to give him the nod in the FA Cup.
20: Benji Kimpioka (19) - Cattermole’s exclusion in Devon meant Kimpioka reclaimed a place on the Sunderland bench, but he didn’t see any action with Sinclair and Maja leading the line.
21: Charlie Wyke (20) - Another long-term absentee who remains unavailable through injury.
22: Ethan Robson 23: Donald Love 24: Jack Diamond 25: Lee Connelly 26: Bryan Oviedo 27: Max Power 28: Duncan Watmore.