STEVE Bruce has hailed Simon Mignolet as Sunderland’s “find of the season” and says were it not for the Belgian keeper’s form then the club’s Premier League position would be far more perilous than it is now.
The 22-year-old stopper has seen eight goals flash past him in his last two games – 12 since returning to the side five games ago in the wake of fresh injury to Craig Gordon – but the Black Cats boss says the young keeper is the player least to blame for Sunderland’s recent decline.
“Simon has been absolutely superb for us this season,” said Bruce (right).
“He’s still very much learning the game but he is an outstanding prospect and a strong character and what he has achieved this season deserves recognition.
“To come in from Belgian football and to be thrown straight in at the deep end from day one in the Premier League was a massive test of bottle and he just took it in his stride.
“His first couple of games he found difficult but he just kept on going and then became a big part of our early season success.”
Mignolet kept six clean sheets in his first 12 Premier League games before the return of Craig Gordon in November – a record which put the youngster in the chase for the Golden Gloves award at the time, the honour which goes to the keeper who keeps most top-flight clean sheets.
Since his return to the side, the 0-0 draw against Arsenal at the Emirates has taken his tally to seven, which is a more than respectable figure compared to his rivals who have played almost every Premier League game – Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer, fifth place in the Golden Gloves league has only eight clean sheets despite having played 25 games compared to Mignolet’s 17.
Bruce said: “For a £1m signing from St Truiden, he has to go down as our find of the season.
“We have one of the best keepers around in Craig Gordon and to lose him for the vast majority of the season could have really hurt us.
“But Simon has stepped up to the plate and he has been excellent, even in these last couple of defeats.
“If it wasn’t for him, the 5-0 defeat at Manchester City could have been a lot worse and in our 3-2 defeat to West Brom the other week he made a genuinely world class save – a save that tended to get lost in the mix a bit with everything else that was going on.
“Hopefully he can continue his good form until the end of the season and some of his team-mates can find theirs because Simon has played well enough to deserve more clean sheets and more points to his name.”