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Sunderland v Manchester City U21 - Checkatrade Trophy

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On This Day (2 August 2017): Dutchman signs with the mission to become Sunderland’s No. 1!

On this day four years ago, Simon Grayson apparently solved our problems between the sticks. It turned out to be a long season.

Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

There are many things that amazed me when I looked back at this signing exactly four years ago to the day.

The first being precisely that: it was four years ago.

Then there was the fact it was in preparation for the Championship where it was our second goalkeeper recruited that summer. Most of all, I was amazed that it only got worse between the sticks over the following ten months.

The previous year had seen Jordan Pickford take the reigns in what was his first full season as first choice for the Lads. As his understudy, we had the dependable Vito Mannone, who had assured his status in folklore for his exploits in our League Cup run of 2013-14.

Sunderland v Liverpool - Premier League
Vito Mannone
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The stewardship of David Moyes had resulted in finishing a mere 16 points from Premier League safety, and it was inevitable our highly-rated young goalkeeper who, despite our performances, had been shortlisted for the PFA Young Player of the Year award, would depart.

After intense speculation, it didn’t take long for Everton to shell out something in the region of £25 million upfront, and it’s fair to say for that price he hasn’t had a bad four years.

In a well-run football club, Mannone would have been promoted to first choice, but with the purse strings being tightened a £2 million offer from Reading was enough to see him leave.

This meant that high on Simon Grayson’s “to do” list, once he’d been confirmed as the man to lead our charge back to the land of milk and honey, was sorting out a couple of keepers to fight it out to become our regular number one.

Sunderland v Celtic: Pre-Season Friendly
Simon Grayson contemplating how we shaped up during our pre-season friendly against Celtic
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

On the 26th July, Grayson made his first move to plug the gap when Jason Steele was signed from Blackburn Rovers for around £500,000. A week later, after a successful trial, 30-year-old Robbin Ruiter penned a two-year deal.

The former FC Volendam and Utercht goalkeeper had performed well at Bradford and Scunthorpe during pre-season, which was maybe enough to earn the deal offered by Sunderland. However, the visit of Celtic and subsequent 5-0 defeat in the amazing Dafabet Cup stressed the urgency of adding competition to the goalkeeper department.

Four days later, Ruiter signed on the dotted line.

We kicked off against Derby, however, with Jason Steele as the man between the sticks, but as results began to dip, Grayson began to alternate his two goalkeepers with devastating effect.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Robbin Ruiter
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

By the time we made the trip to Portman Road in late September, Jason Steele’s confidence was shot, and it showed. A shocking all-round performance was compounded by a bizarre goalkeeping display in the Sunderland goal and a 5-2 defeat followed.

Simon Grayson lasted until Halloween and enter Chris Coleman, who before even taking over in the dugout, witnessed Robbin Ruiter have a shocker at home to Millwall.

Coleman pushed on with Ruiter through the Christmas period and decided to try to solve the issue once and for all – and here’s where things got really strange.

Lee Camp made his debut at the Stadium of Light in a 2-0 defeat to Ipswich Town at the beginning of February and in only 12 never-to-be-forgotten appearances firmly established himself as one of the worst keepers ever to play for Sunderland – certainly in the minds of any of us who were forced to bear witness.

It says a lot that during our three seasons to date in the third tier we have always been better equipped in the goalkeeping department than we were during 2017-18.


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