End of Term Report – Goalkeepers
Monday, 22nd May 2017 09:22 by Clive Whittingham
Oh yes, it’s that number crunching time of the year again where we call the parents in and tell them how their little cherubs have been doing in class – fortunately for Mr and Mrs Smithies, it’s good news.
1 – Alex Smithies A
QPR’s Player of the Year, and Player’s Player of the Year, by a distance not seen since Adel Taarabt scored 19 goals and got 21 assists in the club’s Championship winning year of 2010/11 – Paddy Kenny very graciously accepting the award on the Moroccan’s behalf on that occasion.
“Good shot stopper” is a pre-requisite for goalkeepers and yet often trotted out as an asset, like praising Monet for being able to open his easel. While nobody who couldn’t save shots ever became a goalkeeper because they were good on corners it is all the rest of it that sets one keeper apart from another – command of box, confidence, handling, communication, physical build, kicking, distribution, decision making, calmness under pressure. The Championship has been blessed this season with a number of high quality keepers – Darlow, Westwood, Bentley – but Smithies is right up there with them. He’s got the lot, he looks great in that blue kit and at the end of the day he quietly goes home to his wife and daughter in Windsor – maybe we could move Steven Caulker into his spare room?
Robert Green did well for QPR over a couple of years but had regressed so far and declined in form so dramatically by the end of his time here that it’s tempting to overplay how good Smithies is simply because daisy cutters from 35 yards no longer provoke a full-on ground-evacuating panic at Loftus Road. Smithies has made mistakes. I’ve sat here and watched Preston’s first goal in the league game at Loftus Road this season a few times and I still can’t quite work out what he was up to for that one and while you could at least see what the plan was for Luke Varney’s goal at Ipswich that was a bloody silly idea as well. He’s also got a noticeable weakness diving down low to his left for shots that are reasonably close to his feet – goals at Villa H, Brighton A and Norwich A twice have squirmed through him in that awkward spot and he conceded one like that on his league debut for us against Nottingham Forest last season after Green had been sent off.
It’s this sort of stuff that will keep the likes of Everton, Bournemouth, West Ham and other Premier League teams all currently using inferior goalkeepers from taking a punt on a Championship keeper and he’ll most likely have to get to the Prem with us or another second tier side to make that breakthrough. But at 27 years old this is a player yet to reach his prime, already performing at an exceptionally high level, and therefore likely to improve still further – especially with all the practice we’re giving him.
Sadly many of his best performances this season simply kept the score down in defeats – we gave him a pretty low four Man of the Match Awards this season, same as Washington and Onuoha bizarrely, and we only took one point from those games. His clean sheet total is low for a keeper who’s supposed to be one of the division’s best but he also won us crucial points, most notably at Newcastle and Fulham and at home to Fulham and crucially Forest where we gave him 8’s. He also got 7’s in victories against Cardiff, Wigan, Bristol City, Norwich, Wolves, Wigan again and Cardiff again. With a worse goalkeeper, QPR would have been relegated.
There’s the penalty thing of course, though he conceded the final three he faced last season rather spoiling a career record that stood at 17 saves from 30 faced after his third spot kick success of the season against Fulham alone in January. He can reach the bottom corner from a standing start without taking a step to set himself first, which makes him very difficult to beat low down if he guesses you right. Probably shouldn’t have banged on about it so much though should we, he hasn’t saved one since.
All round excellent though. A brilliant signing. While I couldn’t be happier he’s ours, and well done to the club for tying him down on a new deal, I can’t help but feel for him that the club he supports and played for all his life is now on the verge of the Premier League straight after he left, with a loaned keeper in goal, while he’s scratching around with us. He’s good enough to be competing in those sorts of games, not bailing us out of our own self-inflicted shitstorms.
13 – Matt Ingram N/A
Of the many problems/issues/crisis facing QPR this summer, finding themselves lumbered with one excellent, one very good and one very promising goalkeeper and wondering what to do with them all is pretty low down the list. But it is a situation that will need addressing all the same.
Being QPR’s ‘cup goalkeeper’ is as much of a career as being the guy carving the hog roast at a Muslim wedding. Ingram played four times this season and, frankly, that’s like several tours of duty in The Hundred Years’ War compared to the scraps the likes of Brain Murphy had to sustain themselves on before him. It’s no kind of life and even if QPR did suddenly go on a run and end up in a League Cup quarter final or an FA Cup fifth round or one of those mythical things you’ve only previously read about in books you would – however harsh it would be, however bad it would look, however it would make Ingram feel – want Smithies to be picked in goal for it. We’ve waited 20 fucking years, bollocks to people’s feelings and whatever the right thing to do is, if we were playing a beatable Watford/Stoke/West Brom-type Premier League side at home in the League Cup quarter final next season you’d want your best team out there and that’s Smithies. I thought Hasselbaink’s selection for the Sunderland game this year absolutely stank.
Ingram may not look it but he is just 23, and when we’re talking about Alex Smithies still having his best years ahead of him at 27 it’s clear that time is still well on his side. But a goalkeeper with 140 senior starts already to his name, during which time he’s played in promotion pushes and relegation struggles, won't be getting a lot out of bench duty. He is a very good goalkeeper and he isn’t getting anything out of sitting and watching every week, in fact he's probably regressing.
We saw that in the Blackburn FA Cup tie, where both goals were scored from rebounds where you felt the keeper might have done better. After that we were treated to the usual outpouring of seminal fluid spaffed all over the social media by the resident experts who “didn’t think much to Ingram” or “thought Ingram looked shit” or were “even more worried if Smithies goes now”. QPR have done this a few times this season – with Sean Goss, with Michael Petrasso, with Michael Doughty and with Ingram. Take somebody who hasn’t played for weeks, months or, in Petrasso’s case, a year, and just sling them into a competitive game at a reasonable level from the start. Then, when it doesn’t go well, write them off as a no hoper, or humiliate them by withdrawing them at half time, or actually, seriously sit there and wonder why he might not have performed very well when the answer could scarcely be more glaringly obvious if it was written across the side of a dead fish which is then used to beat you round the head with until you are dead.
Talk to professional goalkeepers, play in goal yourself to any shit standard you like, and they’ll tell you and you’ll realise, if you sit out for a few weeks when you come back things aren’t quite there. Your angles go, you find yourself not quite in the right spot, the sharpness isn’t there, your feet aren’t quite right, you end up letting one in at your near post and being a bit puzzled because you didn’t realise where you were standing, or parrying a shot you would normally catch because your feet didn’t move quickly enough. Ingram’s Blackburn toils told us lots about that, and nothing about him.
So what to do? It’s possible we might get an offer for Smithies, which should probably be accepted if it meets the valuation - which will be nowhere near the over-hyped price supporters expect, given that goalkeepers cost less than outfield players anyway and he’s a 27-year-old with deficiencies in his game and zero Premier League experience playing for a Championship club everybody knows has financial issues. Lee Hoos has openly said the only way QPR can continue to exist post parachute payments and without a promotion is through selling players on for profit, so you buy players like Smithies and you sell them on for good money and you have replacements as good as Ingram ready to step in – we have, if nothing else, got the goalkeeping department right.
It’s also possible, heaven forbid, that Smithies gets injured, in which case what a blessed relief to have a stand in as good as this. But failing that do you loan Ingram out, and put Lumley on the bench for next season? (That’s probably my preferred option by the way). Do you loan out both Lumley and Ingram and sign your standard Steve Harper/Chris Adamson-type permanent reserve keeper on an uber cheap deal, or loan, to just sit on the bench and cover? Do you see how well Lumley did at Bristol Rovers this season and think maybe we should sell Ingram and make Lumley number two?
It's a (tough) decision to be made because neither QPR nor Matt Ingram are getting anything out of a very good goalkeeper with a lot of senior games under his belt sitting doing nothing for months at a time.
Having seen Lumley a little bit coming through the youth ranks his confidence, natural ability and, particularly, communication was always a strong point – he never shuts up. He’s always been a tall boy but he makes even the relatively slender Alex Smithies look like Bayo Akinfenwa with his public school boy shoulders. It never did Edwin van der Sar any harm but you’d hope he’ll fill out a bit as he ages (22 currently). That said, anybody who watched the play-off semi-finals will tell you it’s League Two where the football is played and League One where they kick, rush and intimidate so to stand up to that treatment – just as he did at Blackburn for us last season where they saw a kid goalkeeper and tried to bully him out of it unsuccessfully – bodes very well. His promise and form fits into the Ingram conundrum we’ve already discussed.
Nice position to be in though, and wonderful to see a player coming out of the youth set up and doing as well as Lumley has at Rovers this season. Well done Joe.
The Twitter @loftforwords
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