STEVEN Fletcher has hailed the contribution Simon Mignolet has made to Sunderland this season.
And the Scottish international says that the Belgian stopper now has to be considered among the top goalkeepers in the game.
Mignolet received the North East Football Writers’ Player of the Year award for 2012 at the weekend, despite the claims of several Newcastle players who helped the Magpies finish in the top five last season.
It was due recognition for just how consistently solid the 24-year-old was throughout last year.
And even in an indifferent campaign so far for the Black Cats, Mignolet has performed so well that only Manchester City’s Joe Hart and Chelsea’s Petr Cech have kept more clean sheets than him this season.
As for Fletcher, he has attracted praise of his own with 10 goals in his debut season so far.
But he admits there have been many games where he has been grateful to see Mignolet performing with such class at the other end of the pitch.
“I’ve worked with a few good keepers in my time and Wayne Hennessey at Wolves springs to mind,” said the striker.
“Hennessey was instrumental in Wolves doing well in the Premier League when they did.
“But Simon is up there with the very best.
“We see that in training all the time.
“In fact I was being tortured by the lads the other day because I was doing well in training but couldn’t get the ball past him.
“Every shot I hit I connected cleanly with and felt was going to go in, but Simon saved every one of them.
“The lads were just laughing at me because I just couldn’t score against him.
“It was embarrassing.”
Fletcher says he is also delighted that one of the nice guys of the game has been recognised and describes him as a worthy winner.
But he also says the rest of the Sunderland squad have to reach high standards in the weeks ahead to ensure the stopper’s hard work doesn’t go to waste.
The former Burnley and Wolves front-man said: “It’s frightening how good Simon is - some of the saves he pulls out in training you just can’t grasp how he could have got it.
“And he’s a good lad too.
“He’s one of the nicest guys in football and he does everything right and it’s good that we have him in our side.
“But while individual awards are great, it’s all about the team and we need all of us playing well, not just a few.
“We have to keep our points total ticking over because it’s a case now of just adding to the score.
“Hopefully we’ll stay away from the teams immediately below us and begin to look up the table again but a lot of it now is about getting over the line and reaching safety.
“It’s getting closer and closer to the last couple of months and now we’ve just got to stretch that little bit further.
“It’s that important time of the season where things can go either way, and we’ve had a few disappointments in that direction.
“But we want to kick on and do what we’re capable of doing - which is producing good, winning performances.”