Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: Sunderland


Craig Gordon

1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Craig Gordon, Simon Mignolet, Keiren Westwood

Overview: Similar to the fiercely competitive goalkeeping ranks at Newcastle, how Steve Bruce handles his trio of custodians throughout the season is going to be fascinating. Each one will think they’re entitled to the start, but barring revolutionary tactics rarely seen from Steve Bruce, two of them will be disappointed each week. As his several mistakes showed last season, Simon Mignolet is very good, but far from the finished article. I still think he’s likely to start the season as first choice and – in my mind at least – after that the picture gets muddy and possibly wildly inaccurate.

I’ve no doubt that Keiren Westwood has immense confidence in his own ability, but I would seriously doubt if he joined Sunderland expecting a three-way fight for the starting berth. I’m sure he backs himself, but it would be immensely naive of Westwood if he signed in the knowledge he would need to usurp the established Premier League performers, Gordon and Mignolet for the starting place. With a string of suitors, he had options that would surely have guaranteed him a start in the Premier League and probably not dissimilar money elsewhere. There’s no need for having three keepers of such quality in the squad, especially with the highly rated Trevor Carson in reserve. In my opinion, he was told privately that it would be a two horse race for the jersey and the horse most likely to be shipped to another stable is Craig Gordon. The Scot hasn’t done much wrong during his time at Sunderland, but he has become very injury-prone and I would suspect the club would rather make some money by selling him now rather than allowing his contract run down to it’s expiry next year. If Steve Bruce does intend to keep all three, then he’ll have a very strong hand to play with, but he’ll also have a major problem keeping everyone happy.

Worst case scenario: As much as I like Westwood, he’s prone to making silly ‘concentration-based’ mistakes (i.e. not technical flaws, just not always being entirely on the ball). If Mignolet does get dropped for making errors of his own, Westwood may not prove to be any more reliable. I’ve no doubt that the Irish international will develop into a good top flight keeper, but this will be his first taste of the Premier League and he may need the time and patience to adapt. If Craig Gordon is sold or injured, Sunderland’s goalkeeping options may not look too pleasing.

What will probably happen: Mignolet will perform well, but every now and then, will make a mistake. Depending on the nature of the mistake, Bruce may decide to drop him for a game or two, but I’d be surprised if he went for Westwood for an extended period of time, especially as he finds his feet in the Premier League.

Al Habsi Howler

There was a lot to like about Wigan’s display at the City of Manchester Stadium on Saturday. They did a lot of things right and with more composure in front of goal and a slice of luck, could have come away with a point that may prove crucial in the fight for survival. If ever a team needed their goalkeeper to do the basics right, it was when David Silva hit a tame shot towards Ali Al-Habsi and the full repercussions of the error will only be known shortly before 5 o’clock on the final day of the season.

It’s the exception rather than the rule, because I’ve been impressed with Al Hamsi this season. Technically he’s a nightmare and too often needs a couple of bites at the cherry to hold on to seemingly straightforward shots, but he’s supremely agile and his lightning quick reflexes – arguably his biggest strength – help him pull off some amazing saves. All in all, he’s certainly a Premier League standard goalkeeper, but what level of the Premier League will depend on how much he comes along for his first full season of English football and the other options available. He’ll return to Bolton in the summer and depending on the career plans of Jussi Jaaskelainen. As youthful as he looks, the Finn will turn 36 next month and although Al Hamsi was initially taken to the Reebok as an insurance policy for a big club swooping for their first choice, he has hung in there long enough to be his eventual successor. For their part, Wigan have been linked heavily to Keiren Westwood of Coventry as Chris Kirkland struggles to convince. With his 40th birthday on the way, Mike Pollitt is little more than an emergency option and it leaves the Latics’ goalkeeping cupboard looking quite bare.

When his time with Wigan comes to an end, Al-Habsi will be remembered for his dreadful error, but he has been a good performer for them this season and will be for someone else in future.