Goalkeeping woes sum up yet another season of recruitment failure for Sunderland

Jason Steele.
Jason Steele.
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Injuries meant he never became the player his outstanding talent suggested he could be but this season has shown that Roy Keane’s logic in signing Craig Gordon was sound.

Keane broke the British record for a goalkeeper in the summer of 2007 but as he explained in his excellent book ‘The Second Half’, it was not a risk but a necessity.

Queens Park Rangers (hoops) Sunderland AFC, Loftus Road, London. 10-03-2018. Picture by FRANK REID

Queens Park Rangers (hoops) Sunderland AFC, Loftus Road, London. 10-03-2018. Picture by FRANK REID

He had played with Peter Schmeichel for years and knew the massive pyschological impact he had both on his own team-mates and his opponents. He reassured the former and deflated the latter.

For the most part, Sunderland in the modern era have been fortunate in this position and it has regularly given them an advantage in their promotion and relegation fights.

The likes of Jordan Pickford, Simon Mignolet, Mart Poom have set the tone for the team with their excellence and often covered up for significant deficiencies elsewhere.

It is the same in any successful team. There are few enduring truths in football but one is that you cannot succeed without presence and consistency between the goalposts.

This season has been a disaster for Sunderland and when Lee Camp replaces Jason Steele on Saturday, it will be the sixth time this season that Simon Grayson or Chris Coleman has had to make a change.

It is no exaggeration to say that had Sunderland found an adequate replacement, they would be outside the relegation zone.

It cost them two precious points against Millwall, when Robbin Ruiter was beaten by two tame free-kicks, and possibly two against Bolton Wanderers when he was beaten far too easily from distance.

Those are the most high-profile examples but there are also a glut of goals that have stemmed from crosses into the box that have not been collected, set-pieces not dealt with properly.

The constant churn has had a detrimental effect on a defence already struggling for form, confidence and resilience.

Lee Camp has not solved the problem but Coleman knew he had little choice but to roll the dice. Had there been a budget to play with, he may have been able to make a more significant change but as it was his options were severely limited.

To compound the lack of finance available, he was not helped by the fact that most clubs were reluctant to let any goalkeeper go in January, eager to keep their three options in place and avoid any upheaval.

January is absolutely not the time to be making a signing in such a crucial position and no well-functioning club needs to do it.

Martin Bain said in September that selling Vito Mannone, who has a good earner at the club after signing a new contract in 2016, highlighted an attempt to manage the club’s finances better and more efficiently.

They received a solid if not spectacular fee from Reading.

There was a certain logic to that but to replace him with one goalkeeper who had struggled for relegated Blackburn Rovers last season and another recovering from a long-term injury was poor management, particularly when the former was handed a four-year deal.

It is easy to say that after the fact, particularly given Ruiter’s impressive trial, but they were risks that should have mitigated.

Of course, Bain and his recruitment team are ultimately operating within the parameters set by Ellis Short, who offered little budget to invest last summer and again in January.

In a rare interview with the club website, Short insisted that the squad was better than their lowly position suggested.

Perhaps, but there were some areas where they were clearly short on quality and to not correct it in January made a mockery of his claims to get Sunderland back into the top half of the Premier League.

It is another misstep that has left Sunderland on the brink of an unthinkable second relegation.