End of Term Report 17/18 – Goalkeepers
Wednesday, 30th May 2018 08:47 by Clive Whittingham
Once again we’ve crunched the numbers, sat through the tapes, argued in the pub and come up with assessments for every QPR first team player’s efforts during 2017/18, starting with the three goalkeepers.
1 - Alex Smithies B
Always interesting, to geeks like me, how rarely the Supporters Player of the Year Award and the Players’ Player of the Year Award go to the same player – I suspect the latter means more to the pros and Nedum Onuoha got the nod this season. What was eye opening though, when the club published a series of short video reviews from a dozen of the first team squad, is just how many of them either voted for Alex Smithies or came close to doing so. He’d featured only very occasionally in the message board’s field, which was dominated by the likes of Luke Freeman, Massimo Luongo, Josh Scowen, Jack Robinson and a few calls for Matt Smith. Perhaps we have come to take the division’s best goalkeeper for granted.
Alex didn’t quite hit the extraordinary heights of 2016/17 - when he saved penalties so frequently it became a legitimate defensive tactic to concede them on purpose - in 2017/18. But his marks tell their own story, only three lower than a 6/10 all season. Like the previous year (Ipswich A), he made one glaring mistake for a goal – this time at Birmingham where he spilt a cross in driving rain and then slipped trying to regather it allowing Sam Gallagher to equalise. But that really was it, and we won the game anyway. He even came within a whisker of heading home a memorable equaliser in the televised game against Fulham, though as that calamity at Portman Road the previous campaign shows neck muscles don’t seem to be a strong suit. No matter, everything else is, and he seems to have tidied up that little tick he has low down at his left near post when players are cutting in and shooting from a narrow angle on the right.
In the numbers – five fewer goals conceded than last season but the same number of clean sheets (seven). That’s not enough, but I apportion no blame for it to him. His hottest streak of form was through a tough spell in December and January when he was our Man of the Match against Villa, Derby and Bristol City.
There is clearly something I’m missing. Half the Premier League is currently operating with worse starting goalkeepers than ours. Hell, I’d argue that one of them has reached the Champions League final with keepers I wouldn’t swap for ours (written last week, God I wish I’d published this on Friday). The difference in the final four games when Smithies was rested was there for all to see – Ingram erring in conceding a penalty at Brentford, Lumley muffing a kick for the second at Leeds. Having suffered one goalkeeper error in 42 games we suddenly concocted two in four games without him. The ‘B’ grade reflects the very slight drop off from the extraordinary highs of the previous season, and our wariness of handing out too many high marks to a squad which did, at the end of the day, finish sixteenth. But he’ll always be an A to us, as his team mates are clearly acutely aware.
Recently linked with a move to Birmingham by the summer rumour mill and while QPR do need to embrace the idea of selling their best players for big money, developing replacements and repeating the act to survive in the era of FFP I very much doubt they’ve got the sort of money we’d be looking for and it would be heartbreaking to see a guy of this ability take a sideways step like that.
13 – Matt Ingram N/A
Best job in the world? Reserve goalkeeper for the club you support. It’s basically like being a professional season ticket holder. They go to all the games, home and away, and sit in the stand, just like you do anyway, except they get paid for it. During the week, they get to go to training, save a few shots, let a few goals in, doesn’t matter really. To be Steve Harper at Newcastle or Chris Adamson at Sheffield Wednesday is to live the football supporter’s dream – here’s a ticket to every match, and your own locker at the training ground, and enough money for you never to have to work ever again. Hell, when the season’s over, and there’s nothing at stake, and everybody else is on the beach, we’ll even let you have the odd game for the first team.
Matt Ingram has time on his side at 24 (I know, I was surprised too, uphill paper round). But he’s fast approaching the crossover point where he goes from promising first team goalkeeper into perennial reserve. He has made just 12 appearances for QPR in two years and is, developmentally and experience wise, still exactly the same goalkeeper he was aged 21 and playing for Wycombe. Sporadic first team outings are no good for any player really, but it’s particularly difficult for goalkeepers to be asked to step in for the odd game here and there after months of inaction. Ingram doesn’t really impress on the rare occasions he does get an appearance for us – several good saves in the first half at Brentford masked a nervous display that culminated in hesitation and the concession of a penalty – but then he’s not going to without a run of games which he’s not likely to get while Alex Smithies is reigning over his QPR kingdom. Those nerves and hesitation saw him accomplish the unlikely feat of being booked for fouls in both his league outings for us this season. A transfer for Smithies changes the whole picture but without that both Ingram and the club are fast approaching decision time.
From what little they’ve seen of him, QPR fans probably think reserve keeper with the occasional loan spell – like this year’s mixed stint with struggling Northampton in League One, which included a 6-0 home defeat to Bristol Rovers (Hasselbaink loves those) - is about Ingram’s level. Those that saw him play so well at such a young age for Wycombe, including our current scout Mel Johnson, will tell you that’s a terrible waste of a talent. The emergence of Joe Lumley behind him only complicates the situation further – a club cutting its cloth in the Championship cannot justify three talented senior goalkeepers on staff.
26 – Joe Lumley N/A
That emergence was tempered ever so slightly by Lumley’s two performances at the end of the season after Ingram had suffered a concussion at Brentford. For the most part he was very good, and he made two excellent saves at Elland Road on the final day, but a spill against Birmingham could easily have resulted in him conceding a penalty and a weak kick at Leeds cost us the second goal. In mitigation, asking a rookie keeper to play out from the back with two full backs at centre half and two midfielders at full back, away from home at Leeds United, was arrogant nonsense from the management team and set him up for a fall. But it was, nevertheless, a rookie mistake, from a rookie keeper. It may be no bad thing. We’re prone to over-hyping our kids – Tyler Blackwood was once compared to Clive Allen on the message board – and his excellent performances on loan at Bristol Rovers and more recently Blackpool had people behaving as if we’d exhumed Lev Yashin, so a little reality check may be no bad thing.
His numbers at Bloomfield Road were impressive, with nine clean sheets from 18 appearances there. It took him more than two and a half games – 229 minutes – to concede a goal for them at all, but they didn’t win until his sixth game. He finished with a run of four straight wins during which he conceded only one goal.
He’s clearly a talented boy, and having sat basically on top of Ingram at Griffin Park and then near Lumley on the final day of the season his communication is more constant, more forceful, more aggressive and more confident. If Smithies stays you would think that one of Lumley or Ingram is going to have to move on eventually and as it stands I’d side with Joe.
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