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What Newcastle fans need is belief – We’ve waited this long

5 years ago

I don’t have dandruff, just messy looking hair. So it’s just as well I’m not a Joe Hart or Manchester City fan, as I would have had to buy different shampoo.

Pep Guardiola isn’t a fan of him, either, so that’s something he and l’il me have in common. That and rocking the v-neck jumper look. Ahem…

I’m glad Pep didn’t come knocking on our door to replace his thin green line. Despite our search for the next goal machine and creative midfielder over the last few years, we have unearthed some very good and potentially excellent goalkeepers. It’s the position arguably under the most scrutiny, with every error amplified and usually disastrously costly. It’s also the one position in which we’ve arguably had the fewest problems in terms of talent, other than a flurry of injuries and trying to keep them all happy.

It’s sometimes said that a good goalie will have nowt to do for yonks at a time in a match, then make the crucial contribution of a good save that earns points. Or in the case of our goalies over the last couple of years, stop most of the shots fired through a leaky defence. Either way, our goalkeepers have earned their place.

So the grumbling over Matz Sels is something new, relatively speaking. While any new goalie is going to come under the armchair pundit microscope, some of the criticism of Sels is due to some nervy moments, and they have transmitted themselves to some fans, and possibly to the defence.

On the one hand, we have a pivotal position on the pitch, one in which we mercifully haven’t had a lot of hoo-har over for a good while. We have a young, potentially very good goalie, in a different country, different league, learning the hard way about trying to yo-yo back up to promotion land.

On the other, we can’t afford the slip in confidence of the defence, a slip in the table, a slide into the averageness of mid-table.

While goalkeepers these days are ridiculously protected by match officials, they’ve been given the nightmare of footballs that swerve unexpectedly, dip mysteriously, and travel faster than footballs of even twenty years ago.

Coaching advice now is to push the ball away, rather than try to catch it. By the law of averages, this is going to lead to more goals from rebounds and flapping, making goalkeepers look, well, dodgy. But I don’t think Sels is a dodgy ‘keeper. He just needs a bit of confidence, and dare I say it, time. The question is, who will give him the time?

One of the greatest attributes of any ‘keeper is their ability to command the penalty area. It’s theirs. They reserve the right to clatter the number off your back, even if you’re on their team. They should be vocal, issuing instructions from their wider angle of view than the defenders in front of them.

This was an issue for Pav, one of our real favourites, when he initially joined the club. And Pav went on to be a cult hero. All Sels needs is a game or two of some good saves, a couple of decent punches on some crosses, and some instructions to his defence, and those jitters will ease.

After this, with a bit of luck, the sure-footed knowledge of a solid wall behind them will help the defence stop most of those crosses and shots getting near our goal anyway. That’s the plan…

If he is dropped, what does that say? While Rafa has been ruthless about most positions, he has faith in Sels. Perhaps goalkeepers need this more than other positions. And I’m pretty sure it’s not usually the goalkeeper who loses the ball in midfield.

I can’t remember anyone ever doing better because of getting a load of grief.

So, what do we do?

If we want to get over this stutter, what we need is the same as what Matz Sels needs. What we’ve always had. Belief. We’ve waited this long.

You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby



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