Jon McLaughlin on his Sunderland heroics, Portsmouth win and the 'no nonsense' star bringing calm to the defence

This was Sunderland’s 20th draw of the season, but this time there was no frustration.

Saturday, 18th May 2019, 08:16 am
Jon McLaughlin believes Sunderland are starting to build a settled defensive unit

A gameplan perfectly executed, a crucial clean sheet delivered.

The Black Cats did not have to call on Jon McLaughlin too much, but when they did, he delivered in style.

The Scot joked that Sunderland’s ‘draw specialists’ knew what they had to do, and did exactly that.

“We were laughing about it before, tongue in cheek, we're the draw specialists!” he said.

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“It's the first time our fans will be buzzing to see us pull out that result, and that's what we've gone and done.

“We had the confidence we could see it through.”

Performances of this quality and importance were regular earlier in the season but the strange irony of Sunderland’s season is that despite a poor end to the season in terms of results, improving control throughout the side meant that McLaughlin has been called into action less.

But in this atmosphere, in a game of this importance, he was always going to be called into action and so it proved.

His command was exceptional as the Black Cats secured a very worthy shutout.

“It's great that I've been able to contribute and that we've been able to produce a performance like that defensively,” he said.

“Myself, the back four and everyone in front of us, we knew that a clean sheet was going to be vital to our success. If we could get a goal, then we knew that we could see the game through, but it was always going to be cagey.

“The approach is to come and play your football, try and take the game to them when you get opportunities, but human nature takes over, you know what's at stake and you've got something to defend.

“You're away from home against a good team, that's how it is going to pan out,” he added. “Luckily for myself, I've managed to be in the right place at the right time with the opportunities they had. Collectively, we've done a job.

“We spoke about [managing the game].

“We said that the flatter the atmosphere, the better for us. We're going to be coming into a cauldron, a sell out crowd, trying everything to raise the atmosphere.

“We knew that if we could suck the life out of it, it would aide our cause.

“We managed to nullify that. You've seen a lot of these play-off games, red cards galore, people losing their heads, costing their team. We knew we had to keep composed.”

Most encouraging of all ahead of the play-off final were the signs of a settled back four emerging.

Consecutive clean sheets was the reward as Alim Ozturk continued his recent improvements.

“To come in at this stage having been frustrated watching on for so long, he's done fantastic,” McLaughlin said.

“He's looked so solid and strong in that position, real no nonsense. Him and Flanno [Tom Flanagan] have made a real partnership there late on.

“Luke has been doing great things with his energy and enthusiasm, and then you have the talent and experience of Bryan.

“As a back four we've been putting in good performances.

“We're starting to look solid and have that little bit of a bond, and of course winning games and keeping clean sheets helps that. The boys are trusting me and we're starting to gel as a unit nicely.”

Sunderland’s biggest challenge this season still awaits, but this was a major step in the right direction.