JON McLaughlin returns to Valley Parade this afternoon with the weight of Wearside expectation on his shoulders.

It’s a familiar feeling for the keeper, who was such a dependable figure in City’s promotion from League Two five years ago.

Pressure was a constant companion when the Bantams were the club to be shot at in the bottom division.

Multiply that by 10 and you’ve got a rough idea of what is demanded of Sunderland this season during their dip into the third tier.

But far from crumble under the high demands of League One’s largest fanbase, McLaughlin is comfortable living with it.

“It’s a nice pressure to have because it means you’re playing for one of the biggest clubs,” he told the T&A after the midweek draw with second-placed Peterborough United.

“You’d rather have that than be at a small one with no expectation.

“You’ve just got to deal with it. Everyone knows the script and you have to get on and try to be the players and the team that everybody expects you to be.

“There are no small games, every week is an occasion and you’ve got to be up for it.”

A maximum allocation of 2,700 travelling fans will be roaring them on against City after nearly 5,000 went to Coventry last week.

After successive relegations, they expect Sunderland’s stay in League One to be brief.

McLaughlin added: “It’s been tough for the supporters, so they’ve got every right to have high expectations.

“As a club, there’s no hiding it. We need to get our act together and get promoted.

“But it’s not as simple as that. Just because you’re a big club with good players doesn’t mean it will just happen.

“We’re learning that there are good teams in this league and everyone wants to get that scalp. But I’m sure over the course of a long season we have the quality to come good.”

Having left Burton Albion after three successful years, including back-to-back promotions, McLaughlin spent last season in Scotland with Hearts. But the chance to join Sunderland jumped out at him among the offers in the summer.

“We were talking with other people but that one obviously stood out. It was a huge opportunity, not just for the immediate future but also the potential.

“It’s a club that very quickly could find itself right back up in the Premier League.

“When I arrived, there was new management, new staff and quite a lot of new players so there has been a full cleanse.

“Everyone who needed to go has gone and the people worth keeping are still here. It means there’s a clean slate for everyone.”

McLaughlin is excited to be going back to the club where it all began with nearly 150 appearances for City, including two at Wembley.

It will be his second return to Valley Parade – he came back with Burton in March 2016, losing 2-0 to goals from Kyel Reid and Reece Burke.

But while the scenery will be very familiar, the cast are all new.

He said: “So much has changed. I don’t think there’s anybody I’d recognise at the club anymore, staff or players.

“This is the way of the world now. The turnover is so quick in all departments.

“It’s not just in the Premier League nowadays where there’s constant change and people coming and going. It’s all the way down the leagues as well.

“I had nearly seven years at the club and a few others stayed for a while after me and had long spells as well.

“Now with the new owners and foreign owners in football the turnover seems to be quick.

“It’s been a complete turn-around but I still have such fond memories and I’m really looking forward to it.”

But one former team-mate in particular continues to dominate McLaughlin’s thoughts.

Like so many from that class of 2012-13, he has been rocked by the devastating news of Stephen Darby’s condition.

“It’s absolutely terrible,” he said. “He’s such a brilliant lad and it just doesn’t feel fair.

“With any other sort of condition or disease, sometimes you feel you can be upbeat and tell people that they can fight it and come through.

“But with that motor neurone disease, there is no cure. When you have a conversation with him, what can you say?

“You can only think about what is going to happen to Darbs and his family.

“All the lads straight away were on the phone putting together groups to offer their help.

“It shows you what a guy he is that so many people jump into action to do anything they possibly can to support him and the charity’s involved.

Gary Jones mentioned this special night arranged for him at Valley Parade and a lot of the lads said we’d love to come down and be there.”