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Fair play, Jason Steele

I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the turnaround in the fortunes of former Sunderland goalie Jason Steele, but it’s genuinely nice to see him doing well in the Premier League at Brighton.

Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images

Football is a funny old game.

If you’d told me at the end of the 2017/18 season, having just suffered relegation to League One for the first time in my lifetime, that Jason Steele would end up being the number one for a team finishing in the Premier League’s top six I’d have either laughed in your face or chased after you with a rusty pitchfork.

I have to hold up my hands - I know I said and wrote some awful things about Steele during his time at the club. I was frustrated by the direction that the club was heading, and to me he was one of the worst players in a team full of hopeless players.

I guess, with the benefit of hindsight, the atmosphere at the club and the rotten culture which ran right through it started long before Steele ever arrived on Wearside. And if you’re a confidence player, playing under those conditions must have been impossible.

Every mistake, every shot which flapped through his hands, every individual error - those were of course on Steele, but I don’t think there was an environment at the club at the time which made the players (particularly new signings and academy graduates) play with freedom and confidence.

Sunderland Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Steele’s lack of confidence was apparent during his various appearances in the first series of ‘Sunderland Til I Die’, where he toiled constantly over his lack of connection with the supporters and his inability to get up and running. We only see the issues on the pitch, but not the ones off it - and seemingly, Steele was taking his problems home with him.

It might only seem like it was two minutes ago but Steele’s last appearance for Sunderland was over five years ago, and it’s been a long road back for him since that point.

He joined Brighton as their third choice goalkeeper in the summer after our relegation, and he’s largely been restricted to appearances from the bench and in cup competitions since that point - not making his first team league debut for The Seagulls until November 2021.

That was a one-off, and it wasn’t until Roberto De Zerbi took charge last season following the departure of Graham Potter that Steele was given a proper chance to shine.

He’s firmly established himself as their first choice goalie in the final few months of the season, dislodging Spain international Robert Sanchez to the disbelief to the majority of Sunderland supporters who probably haven’t paid attention to the career of Jason Steele since he left us after that horrendous relegation from the Championship in 2018.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Southampton FC - Premier League Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images

Not even the fans who felt sorry for Steele could have predicted that after five years on the sidelines he’d somehow become the first choice goalkeeper for the team finishing sixth and qualifying for Europe, but a leap of faith from his bold and brash manager coupled with some impressive performances have seen him own the position.

You have to say fair play to the lad. He got a chance and took it.

I’ve watched a fair bit of Brighton towards the end of the season and it’s clear to see why Steele has been picked ahead of his colleagues. De Zerbi likes his team to play out from the back, and Steele’s a massive part of that.

It’s like watching a different goalkeeper, in truth. Raking 60 yard passes to feet, carrying the ball out and joining the defence, popping the ball into space over the top - it’s remarkable really what a bit of confidence coupled with surrounding him with top class footballers has done for Steele’s performances and development, but even his biggest critic would have to admit that he not only deserves his place in Brighton’s team, but that he’s playing and performing like a top class, top flight goalkeeper.

As someone who really didn’t rate Steele during his time on Wearside I’m actually glad he’s proven me wrong and finally looks to have turned his career around. He’s not a bad lad, and he didn’t mean to play badly for Sunderland - it was just some bad timing, both for the player and the club.

We’ve moved on since then and I’m over it.

It was a shitty period in our history and I’m glad we’re well clear of it, and by the same token, I’m glad Steele has finally been able to move on too.

Anyways, I’m off to the bookies.

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