Phil Smith: Thomas Sorensen one of the best of our generation to grace Stadium of Light

Thomas Sorensen dives to push away Alan Shearer's spot kick back in November 2000.
Thomas Sorensen dives to push away Alan Shearer's spot kick back in November 2000.
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Nostalgia and football will forever go hand in hand, our views of the game invariably framed by the foremost experiences that shaped our love for the sport in our early years.

It is a feeling, or indeed a longing, that becomes all the more powerful in the tough times.

Little surprise then, that Thomas Sorensen announcing his retirement from the professional game brought such an outpour of affection on Wearside.

Few would have predicted the legacy the Dane would leave when he arrived in 1998 following a recommendation from compatriot Peter Schmeichel.

A relative unknown, few saw him as a natural heir to the flamboyant fan favourite Lionel Perez.

Sorensen may not have had the Frenchman’s flair, but he would far surpass his achievements. Like the very best of goalkeepers, he did the basics so well the spectacular was rarely required.

When they were, he didn’t disappoint. For a generation, that penalty save in front of the Gallowgate was a defining moment, the high watermark of a side that flickered so brightly for three glorious years.

Even in the leaner days, Sunderland have always been well looked after between the goalposts.

Kelvin Davis aside, it is hard to think of a goalkeeper who has not made a good impression in the Stadium of Light era. Sorensen was the finest, but few have disappointed.

Now, it seems the baton may well pass to Robbin Ruiter.

The Dutchman’s arrival was as surprising and unheralded as Sorensen’s 19 years ago, but if the 6ft 5ins stopper (the same height as Sorensen) can make even half the impact, he will find an adoring fan base awaits.

Ruiter of course arrives with significantly greater experience. Sorensen had just one senior season in the Danish second tier to his name when he made the move. Ruiter has been a number one in the Eredivisie for half a decade.

Pragmatism is a calling card for new boss Simon Grayson and quite rightly, he was in no mood to get carried away following Ruiter’s excellent debut at Bradford.

The 30-year-old clearly has an impressive kicking range, getting significant distance from the floor and out of hand with seemingly little effort.

He was quick off his line and showed superb reflexes to make an excellent save late in the game.

The way he pushed two weak long shots into a dangerous area, however, showed why the Black Cats boss will be keen for a closer look.

He quickly endeared himself to the away support after the whistle, jumping into the stands to greet his partner. He hung around, posing for photographs, signing autographs.

Who knows how treasured they will be one day?

Ruiter may not be a Sunderland success, it is far too early to tell.

How precious it would be nevertheless if another unlikely hero could emerge from the wreckage of relegation.

For all the understandable desire to get homegrown players into the side, there are few things more endearing than a player who arrives into an alien environment as their own.

Sorensen and team-mate Julio Arca were prime examples, as loved as Michael Gray or any other North East talent.

Perhaps relegation and the changing profile and stature of player recruited can lead to a new generation.

Sorensen, above all else, embraced Sunderland and everything it meant. For that he will be forever remembered fondly.