David Preece: The moment of genius I'd love to see Sunderland keeper Jon McLaughlin replicate against Oxford

There are few things I love more in football than a bit of creative thinking.

Thursday, 1st August 2019, 8:48 pm
Sunderland goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin in action for the Black Cats.

Coaches and players who, at risk of ridicule, decide they aren’t going to settle for doing things just because everyone else does it that way too.

It’s how the game evolves and innovators, regardless whether they are successful in their methods, will always be given my respect. It’s why English football has spent decades on the Travelator of progress.

We have had too many coaches in the past who play it safe and put straitjackets on our players.

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I mention this because of a clip that has been doing the rounds on social media of Benfica using their initiative to take full advantage of the new ruling around goal kicks.

If the change has passed you by, the ruling now states that the rather than all outfield players having to be outside the penalty area and the ball not coming live until it left the box, the defending team are allowed to stand inside and the ball becomes live as soon as it’s touched.

In this scenario, the Benfica goalkeeper flicks the ball up to the defender, who then heads it back into his hands for him throw the ball out. It’s a simple but genius solution in itself and regardless of the argument whether it circumvents the back pass rule illegally, as a solution I can only applaud it until my hands blister.

Of course there will always be those who oppose and dismiss such things as over-elaborate, but I find things like this far more entertaining than just seeing how far a keeper can launch it to get us up the park. It’s a rule that has already been trialled in Brazil last season and I’ve spent a great deal looking at the likes of Athletico Paranaense to see how they have used it and it’s been an intriguing watch.

I already think that the rule has been a worthwhile exercise beyond the main function of it to ensure quick restarts from goal kicks and if it gets more teams to think differently about how they build their attacks and breaking out of their comfort zones, I’m all for it.

It will be just as interesting to see whether and how it’s implemented at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

Unfortunately for me though, I’ll have to wait until Saturday night to see the game as this weekend’s season opener against Oxford United clashes precisely with our own game at home to AFC Eskilstuna.

After the disappointment of last season’s play-off final, I bet this week couldn’t come around quick enough for Jack Ross. The blessing of a 46-game season of Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday is that an opportunity to rectify a bad performance is never too far away. You’re not afforded that luxury after Wembley games though, but after the long wait, here we are, ready to do it all again.

I’ve managed to grab a few moments here and there to watch a couple of the friendlies against Belenenses and Heerenveen and there have been flashes of good play against good opposition, but they’re immaterial now. All that matters at this point is Oxford United and how the players handle that opening day.

Going from games where performance is the priority to ones that have the ballast of the result weighing them down, can mean the first game of the season can be cagey affairs, more often than not.

And whilst Jack Ross might be thinking that it’s more of a mustn’t-lose than a must-win, getting the season off to a flyer is exactly what’s required to keep that feeling that only this time of the season can bring.

That feeling of hope, of anything being possible can be such a powerful force. It’s getting that first win that’s the hard part, but if we do, last season's disappointment will make everyone ask “Charlton who?”.