Goalkeepers. What makes a great one? Confidence? An ability to organise and marshal a defence? An ability to defy gravity as they dive at full-stretch to keep out that twenty-five yard thunderbolt? Or is it a combination of all of the above?
With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of my personal top five Sunderland goalkeepers from the Stadium of Light era. Over the last twenty-three years, we’ve been fortunate enough to see some superb goalkeepers guarding the home goal at the SOL, as well as some who shone briefly (honourable mentions to Shay Given, Craig Gordon, and the late Marton Fulop) as well as those of slightly lower calibre (step forward Kelvin Davis), but it’s never been dull as far as the custodian of the gloves is concerned!
Mignolet’s Sunderland career has always intrigued me, not least because it’s sometimes easy to forget that he racked up a century of appearances on Wearside and was also Belgium’s #1 for a time.
Signed by Steve Bruce in 2010 when Craig Gordon was in the ongoing grip of injury worries, the Belgian became an integral part of the squad that finished tenth (as Bruce himself never tired of telling us) in 2010/2011.
Seldom flashy and often efficient, Mignolet kept a fairly low profile during his three years at the SOL, but was nevertheless effective, despite playing behind a defence that was often suspect. His performance versus Liverpool in 2012, keeping the Reds at bay in the face of a barrage of shots from all angles, was an undoubted highlight.
The Estonian giant, a goalkeeper who loved a flying header, was a colossus for the Black Cats between 2003 and 2005. The club itself went through a period of immense turbulence during this time, with a Premier League relegation and then a playoff semi-final defeat in the season that followed, but Poom was undoubtedly one of our best players during this period.
A string of excellent performances during 2003/04 was backed up by an equally brilliant display in the semi-final penalty shootout vs Crystal Palace, and his 2005 departure, following a wretched run of injuries, robbed us of a fine talent, one who made a significant impact during his time at the club.
OK, Pickford only had one season at senior level to demonstrate his worth in a Sunderland shirt, but he took advantage of it with aplomb.
Without a doubt, the 2016/2017 season was a dismal, soul-destroying experience for everyone connected to the club, but in the midst of it all, Pickford, aged just twenty-two at the time, demonstrated his enormous potential with a string of eye-catching performances, before a big-money move to Everton.
Gifted with exceptional reflexes, extraordinary self-confidence, as well as a nagging penchant for errors, England’s current number one is yet another ‘what if he’d stayed?’ story for Sunderland, as well as an example of an academy-bred player going on to greater things.
2013/2014 was one of the craziest seasons in Sunderland’s recent history.
It began with David Moberg Karlsson (remember him?) looking like a great prospect in a pre-season tournament in Asia, and ended with a Wembley cup final and another against-the-odds escape from relegation under Gus Poyet.
One of the key players during this time was Mannone, whose fiery personality and obvious passion seemed to rub off on everyone around him. He made himself a hero during the memorable League Cup run, and was often a one-man last line of defence as we somehow clawed our way to Premier League survival.
He would subsequently face competition from Costel Pantilimon before being usurped by Jordan Pickford, but his departure following our 2017 relegation was a sad moment: his affection for the club and the fans was obvious, and he has often spoken highly of us on social media in the three years since he moved on.
Still the benchmark. Still the Stadium of Light’s greatest home goalkeeper.
It’s been seventeen long years since Sorensen last played for us, but ‘The Great Dane’ (as he was christened by Simon O’Rourke) is, for me, the man to whom all subsequent Sunderland keepers should be compared.
He arrived as a total unknown in 1998, to replace Lionel Perez, and within a very short period of time, established himself as the immovable presence between the sticks that would prove invaluable during the 1998/1999 season and beyond.
Even at such a young age, he had no qualms about barking orders at seasoned veterans like Andy Melville and Martin Scott, and he oozed confidence and penalty-area presence with the air of a grizzled veteran.
Following his departure, he went on to enjoy moderately successful spells at Stoke and Aston Villa, but there’s no doubt that we saw the best of Sorensen during his time on Wearside. A class act.