Connor Southwell: Strength in depth serving City’s keeper union well
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Football’s goalkeeping union is similar to the magic circle, membership is hard to claim and those involved don’t tend to disclose what really happens on the inside.
It is a unique position on the pitch, only one goalkeeper can start and the rest have to wait for an injury or a horror show to get an opportunity to impress between the sticks.
For Norwich City, Tim Krul has dominated the number one shirt for the last three years. Barring injuries, the experienced goalkeeper has been the first name on the team sheet in both senses whilst having seemingly recaptured his best form after fighting back from a potentially career-ending injury.
It has been a comeback few expected when he joined the Canaries on a free transfer in 2018.
Krul was one of the only shining lights for their Premier League campaign last season and became the first goalkeeper to win the Player of the Season award since Andy Marshall in 2000.
In conventional times, he has the rare capability of absorbing the energy from supporters into his performance. In Covid times, his voice booms around the empty terraces, his leadership clear to see.
Those behind him haven’t necessarily received the same degree of praise, mainly due to their lack of game time.
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Goalkeepers, despite their individuality on the pitch, are a tight-knit group away from it. When Krul has been absent, as he is again after testing positive for coronavirus, his colleagues have stepped in and deputised amicably.
The Canaries have a pedigree for developing talented goalkeepers. From Andy Marshall to Declan Rudd, Robert Green to Jed Steer, the conveyer belt has been consistent even if those shot-stoppers haven’t necessary been regulars for the Canaries.
Beyond City’s senior pair, Dan Barden is considered third choice. The former Arsenal goalkeeper and Welsh youth international is set to start for the Canaries in their FA Cup tie against Coventry today.
The 20-year-old actually featured in the preliminary rounds of the competition last year whilst on loan at non-league side Bury Town.
His distribution after replacing Michael McGovern against QPR was impressive. The exposure to first-team football is a welcome one, especially as he plots his way a regular starting berth in Norfolk.
Ed Wootten, who heads up the goalkeeping department, and his staff, including academy keeper coach Tom Weal, have significantly improved those options currently in City’s ranks.
Krul’s resurgence is the result of successful coaching, the trust in Barden and Jon McCracken the result of hard work from the academy.
Even away from the club, Archie Mair is shining for King’s Lynn Town in a very difficult division for a young keeper whilst Aston Oxborough was set for a loan move to Salford City before injury struck.
Krul dominates the headlines, but even in his absence City have a host of talent to call upon in the shape of both senior and youth internationals.
McGovern produced some match-winning saves during his run of fixtures. It took some time for him to get up to match speed, but given he hadn’t featured regularly for over 140 games prior to his recent run in the side, that isn’t particularly surprising.
The dilemma now is about recruiting an experienced understudy for Krul.
Despite Barden’s talents, throwing him into a game against Cardiff City, a physical side who would look to hit the Canaries with an aerial bombardment would be harsh.
One option being considered is Norwegian international Orjan Nyland. The former Villa keeper possesses Championship and top-flight experience as well as being 6ft4.
The problem City will face is the sales pitch. Can they tempt a 30-year-old to compete with Krul?
Equally, the recruitment team will have to ensure it doesn’t block the progression of the talented young shot-stoppers coming through the ranks.
Krul’s performances improved dramatically when he faced credible competition from Ralf Fahrmann last season, Nyland may be able to offer the same.
City’s goalkeeping department is going under the radar. The talent emerging through and the improvement in those frontline options is evident.
Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki may dominate the headlines for their slick offensive contributions, but don’t forget those protecting the goal either. The fact two academy keepers will be in the matchday squad for today’s FA Cup clash is something to be applauded.