The text came through about 9pm on Tuesday night and it read: “McLaughlin is giving an absolute clinic here”. I can’t remember a time since I started going back to watch Sunderland that I regret not going to a game. This was the first one.
Doncaster is only an hour from me but I had been booked to be working somewhere else until a late cancellation meant I was now free. I even thought about paying money to watch football. Imagine that!
To be fair (to me) though, I did pay a tenner to watch Rugby Town v Hednesford Town in the FA Cup only a few weeks back which makes me a bona fide champion of proper football now, obviously.
Sadly, time and distance were against me and it was too late to go along to Doncaster in the end. In any case, the latest episode of Stretford-Enders Jose was on TV and I didn’t want to miss that.
Still, having had little positive to say about Sunderland goalkeepers since Jordan Pickford’s departure, last season’s debacle seems to have been a blessing in disguise.
Tuesday night’s performance from Jon McLaughlin was exactly the sort that had been missing - performances of grit and a determination not to be beaten.
It’s more of a mental approach than anything physical. The two 1v1 saves in the first half were more important than spectacular, but absolutely vital to winning the three points, perhaps even more so than Chris Maguire’s winner.
Each of those saves were due to patient, cool-headed decision making and a real determination not to be beaten. The first one was the best and most important for me. It was the exact type of comedic situation that would have done for us in the past few seasons.
Cattermole winning the ball in midfield only to see it put the opposition through on goal would have resulted in going 1-0 down, along with 11 heads too.
But it’s proof that saves like those do more than just keep the score level. Even more than that, it goes to show how damaging past performances have been to the side.
Of course, clean sheets depend on more than just the goalkeeper but confidence is a two-way street and at the moment both defenders and the goalkeeper are providing it for each other.
In this case, it’s McLaughlin who got his defenders out of jail. Next week, it might be vice-versa and that is such an important dynamic in the defensive structure of a team.
It’s important to get a good volume of games together to create an understanding but most integral to understanding is a trust that’s forged by digging each other out of holes they find themselves in.
It’s a debt that has to be repaid - and that’s where extra motivation and desire is added to team performances.
They end up pulling one another through when things aren’t going well. It’s what makes winners.
Looking at the pages in yesterday’s Echo, it was great to see that his role hadn’t been graded as a mere accomplice to Maguire’s magic, as so often is the case. It was actually Phil Smith who messaged me to extol McLaughlin’s contribution to the game and it’s refreshing to see him showing an appreciation in the art of goalkeeping.
At least somebody seems to be listening to me.