As opening months of the season go, September wasn’t too bad for Sunderland.
Unbeaten in the league and two high scoring cup wins have set us up for a decent charge on the top two. There are, of course, still some issues; the lack of a goal scoring striker being one of concern, but at the other end of the pitch there is something else to consider.
Sunderland’s first and second choice goalkeepers have, in differing ways, struggled to stand out. Lee Burge and Remi Matthews have, in my opinion, started with a noticeable lack of confidence - both have registered errors leading to goals.
Some of the performances this season - particularly when it comes to Matthews - have brought me back to some bad memories from the past. The 2017-18 season was a cursed one for Sunderland goalkeepers. Jason Steele and Lee Camp stood out as both being pretty terrible between the sticks. They, along with the occasional gaff from Robbin Ruiter, cost Sunderland over 30 points as we dropped into the third tier.
Going from Jordan Pickford and Vito Mannone to the goalkeeping equivalent of the three stooges in the space of a few months was a hard pill to swallow.
Although Burge and Matthews have some way to go before they can be talked about in the same breath as Camp and co, some of our goalkeeping performances so far this season should raise concern. Less than five minutes into the new campaign, Burge fumbled a modest effort and then brought down a Bristol Rovers player for a penalty. It was an error which ultimately prevented Sunderland from claiming all three points. However, it is encouraging that he has now kept three consecutive clean sheets.
Remi Matthews, signed from Bolton in the summer, has so far featured in the two EFL Trophy matches. Sunderland have scored 13 goals in these two matches, albeit eight of them were against the Aston Villa academy side, so finding the net hasn’t always been the problem.
Matthews may have been on the winning side on both occasions, but his individual performances were average to say the least. In the 5-3 victory over Carlisle, he raced off his line to bring down an oncoming player for a penalty.
It was the kind of hotheaded decision which has no place in a team gunning for promotion. Later in the match Matthews got both hands on an effort which was straight at him, but failed to keep the ball out. His shaky performances haven’t cost us too much so far, but it isn’t great to see our number two ‘keeper struggle in the few opportunities he gets.
With results looking semi-positive so far, the goalkeeping errors haven’t got people too worried. However with goals in the league still being at a premium, it is only a matter of time before the mistakes start costing us points and we are further reminded of Camp, Steele and Ruiter.
Confidence is key with goalkeepers, and at the moment it appears that Burge and Matthews have about as much confidence in themselves as the fans have in them.