Now we’re talking, what better to do with your time than spend a freezing cold Tuesday night in March sat in the Stadium of Light watching Sunderland take on one of the teams we’d never have dreamt of seeing only five short years ago. Yes, this midweek brings us the visit of Fleetwood Mac Town, a team who, much like Burton Albion, have often found themselves as a point of interest in our recent, hilarious attempts at getting out of League One.
Remember that lovely late April trip to the Lancashire coast under Jack Ross in 2019? Sunderland had already imploded when all the odds were in our favour for automatic promotion, but we’d blown it away at Peterborough and at home to Pompey in the previous two games, and Fleetwood was the icing on the cake when we lost 2-1 in the 90th minute, having been ahead going into the last 20 of the game. We didn’t actually manage to beat Fleetwood in any of our league encounters for the first two seasons in League One, with neither Ross or Phil Parkinson being able to get anything more than a trademark 1-1, it wasn’t until a late Max Power winner in Feb 2021, the 7th encounter in all competitions over two years before we claimed a victory under Lee Johnson. League One is great.
So, with that in mind, and the up until recently large gaps between us and Fleetwood, let’s take a look at the few and far between who have kicked a ball for Sunderland and also the Captain Pugwash-loving Cod Army.
Somebody current! Lovely Jay only joined Sunderland on deadline day of the January transfer window 2022, and was immediately overshadowed by the unfurling of the greatest piece of live-streamed television the world will ever see, as SAFC Fans TV did their best to get arrested in the hunt for Jermain Defoe.
Matete joined from Fleetwood where he’d been quickly building a reputation as one of the more exciting young prospects playing in the third tier of English football as a battling box to box midfielder. Having only made his professional debut in 2019, Matete went on to make 26 league appearances for Fleetwood, scoring one goal in the process, he also took in a loan at Grimsby in 2020, scoring 3 in 20 games. In short, it didn’t take the former Reading academy player long to adapt to first team football.
Since arriving on Wearside, Matete has continued on his mission of quickly, if quietly asserting himself as a key player in our squad, starting every game since coming on as a sub on his debut in the tragic game again Doncaster. He battles, throws himself into every challenge for every loose ball, and in terms of technical ability, he may still be raw, but it’s plain to see he’s already a cut above most of the central midfielders in the division. In short, it’s early days, but Matete could well be the type of energetic midfielder we’ve been crying out for. Plus, he’s got a lovely chant.
Ah Conor Mc, the man who famously moved at glacial speed. The right back (remember them?) made his name in a five-year stint at Fleetwood between 2012-12017, notching 172 appearances as he helped the Cod Army continue their genuinely impressive rise of recent years, gaining promotion from League Two in 2014 and establishing them in League one by the time he left for Championship Millwall in 2017.
2017 must’ve been incredible for McLaughlin, as not only did he get himself a move up to the second tier, but he celebrated by winning himself a man of the match award for Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualifier against Germany, where he famously nutmegged both Julian Draxler and Marvin Plattenhardt in a single moment of insanity. Unfortunately however, that appeared to have sapped all of the footballing prowess out of the full back for the foreseeable, as McLaughlin was unable to pin down a place in Millwall’s starting line-up and left for Sunderland two years later, having only made 32 appearances in the league.
In theory, McLaughlin was everything Sunderland needed, him being an actual full back and all that. However, it turned out that the Northern Irishman was pretty much everything we’ve ended up signing over the last few years, in that he was slow, injury prone and ultimately replaced by Luke O’Nien (it comes to us all). McLaughlin effectively had a repeat of his Millwall days whilst at Sunderland, in that he was probably steady overall, but when he had an off day it was truly catastrophic, and I have never before witness a player who does not appear to have any joints in his legs when he runs.
The sole highlight for Conor Mc’s time on Wearside was that he was brought on at Wembley, just before half-time for the recently knacked Tom Flanagan, and put in a decent showing of himself, although, it was of course against League Two opposition. A nice time was had by all.
Released in summer 2021, McLaughlin sought happier times and moved back to Fleetwood, making his second debut in a 3-0 win against Crewe in October of last year. Unfortunately for our hero though, in the following 11 appearances, Fleetwood would only win twice more, and following a 3-0 defeat at home to Shrewsbury (which also featured Jay Matete), McLaughlin was released into the wild again in January of this year.
Still without a club following that release, I say we bring him back, if nothing else, other than he seems to be a nice chap on social media.