Competition between classy keepers will benefit Sunderland

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Sunderland

1st Team Goalkeepers: Simon Mignolet (23), Keiran Westwood (27)

The major move within Sunderland’s goalkeeping ranks over summer was the departure of Craig Gordon. The numbers men will point to the £9 million fee and his leaving on a free transfer as a sign of failure, but there were more than enough extenuating circumstances to explain the disappointing spell. The highly rated Scot struggled with injury after injury. Just when it looked like he was on the verge of return, he was almost invariably struck down with a further ailment. When he did play, his talent was obvious. Gordon managed 95 appearances for the Black Cats, but it’s easy to understand why Martin O’Neill decided against keeping him at the club any longer. With some luck and some good health, Gordon still has the time to forge a good career for himself somewhere.

It leaves Sunderland with two talented options for the season ahead. Simon Mignolet is a good young keeper. His reactions are sharp, agility is good and physicality well suited to the league. His big achilles heel however is his judgement. He seems to read the flight of crosses incorrectly more than is ideal. His handling can also be sketchy and will need to improve if he is to be considered one of the best keepers in the league.

After a handful of starts in his first season at the Stadium of Light, Keiran Westwood is very much playing second fiddle to the Belgian. Signed on a free transfer from Coventry, the Irish international made a good start to his Sunderland career when filling in for the injured Mignolet. With his agility and stunning reflexes, he seemed to have convinced Steve Bruce of his ability, but when Bruce was handed his P45, he then had to repeat the trick by impressing O’Neill. The Northern Irishman seems to be harder to win over. With Shay Given opting for retirement from international football, it’s a big season for Westwood and he needs to get some first team football under his belt. That should lead to some intense competition for places and Sunderland should be the ones to benefit.

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Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: Sunderland

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.

The Best Young Premier League Goalkeepers 2010-11

MOG Premier League Awards
It’s awards season and in the absence of any goalkeepers actually making the PFA Player of the Year or Young Player of the Year shortlists, here’s a look at the best performing goalkeepers of the season. It’s not exactly a list of the most talented goalkeepers, but rather the ones who have consistently performed to the best of their abilities. I haven’t ranked them, but here’s my shortlist of young goalkeepers.

Asmir Begovic
After a worrying start to the season, Begovic has turned things around at Stoke

Asmir Begovic
Usurping such an established Premier League performer as Thomas Sorensen should tell you all you need to know about how good a season it has been for Begovic. Having initially got his chance due to injury to the Dane towards the end of last season, he got the nod as the team’s first choice for the new season and he hasn’t disappointed. What makes his progress this season particularly remarkable is the inauspicious way in which the season began after a controversial absence from a League Cup tie in August. At that point, Tony Pulis suggested an early exit from the Britannia Stadium only six months after joining the club wasn’t out of the question, but the bridges have been rebuilt and the Bosnia and Herzegovina international has become a firm favourite thanks to a string of good performances. He’s tremendously agile and commands his penalty area with the confidence of a Premier League veteran. It wasn’t looking likely last August, but Begovic has the potential to be a reliable performer for the Potters for many years to come.

Wayne Hennessy
The story of Wayne Hennessy’s season sadly mirrors that of his club a little too closely. Wolves have played good football, performed well throughout, but just not got the results they would have hoped. That’s a general assessment of how Hennessy has got on too. In numerous games during the season he has made several good saves only to be beaten by that crucial goal that turns a win into a draw or a point into nothing. To say he has been perfect would be disingenuous, but he has been very good and responded well after moments that he won’t be overly fond of recollecting. Last weekend was a case in point because after getting beaten to a cross by Jermaine Beckford, he pulled off a couple of excellent saves to keep Wolves in the game. Not for the first time this season, it was in vain, but all the scrapping around hasn’t been for nothing and until last weekend at least, Mick McCarthy’s men had one of the better goal differences of the teams locked in the relegation battle. It’s still not looking too bad and Wolves are going to need Hennessy’s smart reflexes and agility in the closing games of the season. If he can keep a couple of clean sheets and Wolves can capitalise with a couple of goals at the other end, safety is a possibility. Hennessy is certainly good enough to hold up his end of the bargain.

Simon Mignolet
Missing a goalkeeper of Craig Gordon’s quality would normally deal a crippling blow to a team’s chances of having a good season, but such has been the ease with which the Belgian has stepped into the breach, it’s barely been noticed. A string of fine performances from Mignolet helped the Black Cats to a lofty position in the table and although that position has taken a serious dip in recent weeks, one more win should see Steve Bruce’s men safe and surely most fans would he happy with that considering the solid foundations that have been laid this season. This season also saw him make his competitive debut for Belgium. At the age of 22, he’s could already be amongst the Premier League’s best, but the best thing is he is open to serious improvement. He has the natural talent – as seen from his fine reflexes and agility – and under the guidance of Sunderland goalkeeping coach, Nigel Spink, he should become even better. He could do with being a little more assured in his handling and hang on to the ball at the first attempt more often, but Mignolet looks to be on course for the very top.

Honourable mentions
Wojciech Szczesny – did very well when thrown into the deep end for Arsenal, but a mistake in the Carling Cup Final followed soon after by a virtually season-ending injury has seen it finish on something of sour note. Tim Krul was more than capable in replacing Steve Harper for Newcastle and has the talent to be unhappy with sitting on a Premier League bench. It’s hard not to mention Joe Hart for Man City who pulled off some truly breath-taking saves in the course of the season. He started the term well, but a string of mistakes have brought some serious question marks. He has the ability, but his attitude and concentration have undermined him.