Jon McLaughlin: A
Jon McLaughlin wasn’t perfect - you could nit-pick his handling or spot small positional mistakes he made early in his Sunderland career, but when you consider how crucial the 31-year-old was for Sunderland this season, it’s hard to imagine he could have been any better.
The sublime shot-stopper won more points for this team than any other player. His array of vital stops from penalties, one-on-ones and at point-blank range regularly bailed out Sunderland’s collection of Keystone Cop centre-backs.
McLaughlin was robbed at Sunderland’s end of season awards, losing out to Aiden McGeady; he was the rock that held the team together and put Sunderland in position to achieve promotion.
Despite an often-toothless attack, and a ragtag group of lightweight, limited defenders tasked with stopping the opposition, McLaughlin consistently performed at a high level.
His vocal leadership and ability to dominate his area was also a wonderful change from last season’s disastrous goalkeeping situation.
McLaughlin’s leadership and value to Sunderland was best highlighted in his man of the match showing in the play-offs at Fratton Park which earned Sunderland a chance to snatch the final promotion spot at Wembley.
Robbin Ruiter: B
Robbin Ruiter is not a brilliant goalkeeper - we all know this. He was utterly hopeless in the Championship last season. Yet for all his flaws, when judging the 32-year-old solely as a backup goalkeeper it’s hard to consider Ruiter’s season as anything other than an unqualified success.
What a team really needs from its reserve keeper is someone who can be reliable and make a limited number of errors when called upon, but also someone that isn’t going to rock the boat and sulk behind the scenes.
From the outside looking in Ruiter seems to have passed the latter with flying colours.
In terms of his on-pitch performances, believe it or not, Ruiter was actually good - well, for the most part. The Dutch stopper was Sunderland’s best player in the early stages of the Checkatrade Trophy, starting with his two penalty saves and all-round great display (in a group stage game) against Stoke City under 21s.
The 32-year-old kept five clean sheets in six outings in the EFL Trophy and although he got away with rushing off his line in his one league outing against Bristol Rovers, it’s hard not to consider this season a success for a player largely written of after his horrific first season in the North East.
Check back tomorrow as we run down the performances of each and every defender!