Looking out for number 1

Meadow Lane

Why is it so hard for Notts County to find a reliable, consistent number one? The two goalkeepers at our disposal currently are terrible, and have cost us no end of goals over the course of a quite dismal season.

Adam Collin’s assists for the opposition certainly number double figures, while the fact Scott Loach’s appearance tally this term hasn’t reached double figures is a sad indictment on him given the (lack of) form showed by Collin.

Between them, they have registered an appalling four clean sheets in 40 games. Say what you want about the mistakes of Carl Dickinson, Richard Duffy and Matt Tootle, that’s a disgraceful showing from your last line of defence and hardly the form to inspire confidence in the 10 men guarding their goal in front of them. Indeed, the site of Duffy and Dickinson in verbal combat with Collin will be one of the lasting images of the campaign.

At one point this season I was left hoping former goalkeeping coach Kevin Pilkington would reach for his gloves again, at the grand old age of 42. I wouldn’t have even minded had Mark Crossley, seven years retired and 47 years old – and clearly enjoying retirement somewhat – had stepped in to replace the mistake-prone duo.

The problem is, since the departure of Kasper Schmeichel in 2010, only Bartosz Bialkowski has proven at the very least consistently reliable between the sticks. Since the start of the 2010/11 season, the following have appeared in goal for the Magpies: Rob Burch, Stuart Nelson, Fabian Spiess, Pilkington, Roy Carroll, Loach and Collin.

Burch had a tough task in replacing Schmeichel and was usurped as number one by his apparent understudy Nelson due to injury, never showing the form to get back in despite Nelson being completely unable to leave his line and be the presence he needed to be. An unreal knack of saving penalties aside, he was a frustrating number one.

Spiess threatened to be the next big thing but a lack of chances from several managers affected his confidence and he went from Manchester United and Tottenham interest to non-league. Pilkington should never have been needed, while Carroll showed occasional brilliance but was far too combustible to be the calming influence that was needed in successive awful seasons of relegation and relegation battle.

It’s a peculiar anomaly of course, but the fate of a trio of our keepers in three games against Cambridge United in the last two seasons – Carroll, then Loach, and finally Collin all kicking the ball against a Us player allowing them a goal – as well as becoming a viral sensation, rather sums up the fortunes of Notts goalkeepers post-Schmeichel.

What does add to the frustration is that in Pilkington, the club’s goalkeeping coach throughout this period, and then Crossley from the start of the season as assistant manager, we had two former stoppers of some repute. Yet between them they’ve been unable to help their managers identify the right sort. And worse still, coach betterment from them. Perhaps it helped push Pilkington to his departure in the end, the fans’ favourite leaving the club prior to Nolan’s arrival.

Now I’ve never been much of a goalkeeper. Even now, when taking turns during five-a-side outings, I struggle to stick hand on ball at the best of times. But playing out, I become more of an expert and will regularly voice my disproval at a concession by a ‘regular’ keeper. So I can’t imagine what Notts’ outfield players make of the ‘efforts’ of Loach and Collin.

The latter is the current incumbent – and has been for the majority of the season – with 33 of the 40 appearances between them. He’s had barely three good games, with Portsmouth away the only time he can safely say he won Notts points. He doesn’t claim crosses, he doesn’t hold onto shots and he doesn’t organise his defence. What does he do well?

Loach is even worse in my eyes. He’s possibly, possibly, a better keeper. But his attitude is terrible. Most fans, particularly the younger element taken in by his Twitter game, would argue he has a very professional attitude considering he has spent the best part of two years getting splinters in his arse and not showing his displeasure. But that’s the problem. A Nottingham lad, an ex-England under 21 international with a first-team call-up, and one who at 29 is surely entering his peak age, yet he’s more than content with being back up to a 35-year-old hothead in Carroll and a ball juggler in Collin. Where’s his fight? Ricardo Moniz once called him ‘too soft’. That’s one thing the eccentric Dutchman called right.

So regardless of our division next term, Nolan has an immediate call to make. Loach is out of contract and must be let go. I’d much rather a younger up and coming keeper or loanee sit on the bench and press for inclusion with a willingness than him. And Collin must be the next to leave by mutual consent given he will have a further year remaining. Our defence has been bad, but I’d argue he has been the worst of the lot. I urge you to watch the goals we’ve conceded again and tell me I’m wrong… you’ll need a good few hours, mind.

And neither could complain. Loach certainly wouldn’t anyway.

Paul Smith

3 Comments

  1. Kasper was not actually that good a keeper he did however have a stellar back four in front of him (for League 2) which made him look better than he was, when he first arrived he was making a lot of errors and his kicking was poor though he did improve over the season (Confidence?)
    Nelson was actually a much better shot stopper than Kasper and Roy Carroll was a better all round keeper than both.

  2. Nice article Smudger.
    A goalkeeper breeds confidence throughout the team – starting with the defence immediately in front of him. A gk should also be organiser-in-chief, again setting the tone for others to follow. You just have to look at Bravo at Man City to see how nervousness and indecision spreads through a team.
    There are so many good young keepers about too – just look at Henderson Grimsby had from Man United on loan – options are out there.
    I hope you pies get a keeper sorted – clean sheets will soon see a rise up the table.

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