“It goes past ten of them before it goes past you.”
That’s what I was told, seemingly on repeat, as a youngster trying his best between the sticks for a team that simply wasn’t very good. And, despite its incredible simplicity, it’s a phrase I’m still fond of to a certain extent.
That phrase was put to the test on a regular occurrence last season as confidence in our goalkeeping department wore thin rather quickly. Yet, that being said, surely the notion of goalkeepers inspiring confidence in their teammates is a two way street?
Of course, when a goalkeeper makes a mistake, the entirety of the arena’s eyes fix upon them - the defence’s confidence left shaken as doubts begin to creep into their minds as to whether they can trust the lunatic barking away behind them.
But, surely a goalkeeper’s confidence is also affected should they lack trust in those playing just beyond their domain?
It feels like that’s the issue facing Sunderland’s current cat between the sticks - who has at times looked a little shaky this season.
Don’t get me wrong, Jon McLaughlin is infinitely better than the dross served to the Mackem faithful last season; however, in his last couple of appearances, the Scotsman has certainly cast a smidgen of doubt in fans’ minds.
Whether McLaughlin could have done better for the free-kick conceded at the weekend in the game with Oxford has led pockets of the fanbase to question the new shot-stopper’s seemingly rock-steady place in the Sunderland line-up. So too did a couple of moments in which the otherwise solid stopper flapped at crosses in recent games - one of which led to a goal while another strike was lucky to be chalked off by the match officials.
However, despite a couple of awkward moments, it should be noted that McLaughlin will be a crucial player this season, and moving forward he should retain his place in the side because, with a little more time and with a solid, settled back four in front of him, McLaughlin will undoubtedly shine.
Even despite Robbin Ruiter’s midweek heroics in the penalty-shootout victory over Stoke’s bairns and misfits, I personally don’t think he should be given a chance to continue between the sticks in favour of McLaughlin.
That might seem a harsh judgement, but stability and familiarity are the foundations upon which successful sides are built, and with Sunderland’s constant chopping and changing at the back in recent weeks, McLaughlin hasn’t been given the opportunity to show his true colours as our number one.
It should be noted that aside from a couple of uncomfortable moments, McLaughlin has also produced some impressive displays and looks very comfortable with the ball at his feet.
But, of course, his displays come under just as much scrutiny as any other player on the pitch - and Ruiter’s midweek performance will have certainly done his chances of a return to the starting line-up no harm.
Truthfully, though, it feels like Sunderland’s sometimes erratic defending is causing unnecessary pressure being placed on McLaughlin’s shoulders and that is the key issue Jack Ross needs to fix. Donald Love and Bryan Oviedo were butchered at times against Oxford last weekend, and in turn that allowed Oxford’s widemen to pepper Sunderland’s area with inviting deliveries that often tested McLaughlin’s abilities.
That being said, the return to fitness of Glenn Loovens and Tom Flanagan, coupled with the impressive displays of left-back playing right-back Denver Hume, should provide just the right amount of defensive solidity required in order for McLaughlin to prove his undoubted quality.
Alim Ozturk continues to improve, but Sunderland desperately require Glenn Loovens and Jack Baldwin to reunite in the centre of defence, and for someone like Adam Matthews to return and provide a strong presence on the right side of defence.
“It goes past ten of them before it goes past you.” They used to say, and honestly that’s very much how Sunderland need to look at their current inability to keep a league clean sheet at the moment. Stability and understanding are required in order for McLaughlin to stand the best chance at providing the solid, dependable performances we know he’s capable of.
I have no doubt that McLaughlin will return to the sparkling form that earned him a Scottish cap at the end of last season - he just needs some help from those around him.