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Saints 23/24 Season Review - The Goalkeepers
Tuesday, 4th Jun 2024 11:02

We start our review of the 2023/24 season for Southampton with a look at the three goalkeepers that were used during the campaign, how they played individually and how they influenced the way that the team played.

Saints used three goalkeepers during the season and none of them played in all three competitions, Gavin Bazunu played the bulk of the Championship League season, Alex McCarthy played in the League cup and also the final League games and play offs and Joe Lumley only played in the FA Cup Games before the strange decision by Russell Martin to snub him after Gavin Bazunu was injured in the warm up ahead of the game against Preston at St Mary's.

In terms of games, Gavin Bazunu played the first 41 League games, Alex McCarthy played the final 5, plus the 3 play off games and the League cup game at Gillingham and finally Joe Lumley played the 4 FA cup games.

So lets start with Gavin Bazunu, some Saints fans have found it hard to warm to the young keeper, they point to his form in 2022/23 season, however they take no notice of the fact that in that season he was a 20 year old keeper, thrown in behind a defence that was not only the worst in the Premier League, but was ever changing and had no consistency.

When he was dropped for Alex McCarthy, nothing changed.

When Russell Martin arrived Gavin Bazunu was always going to be his keeper, Alex McCarthy is a keeper that can't play with his feet, Bazunu can, the decision was easy, although some would say that we should have bought a new one.

In fairness Bazunu started the season well, even though in front of him was a defence that was still finding it's feet, after our run of 4 straight defeats, Saints and Bazunu went into overdrive and for 22 games we were the best defence in the Championship, remaining unbeaten and looking set for automatic promotion.

What changed though was Russell Martin's determination to keep changing the defence and it sent us on a 9 game run where we lost 4 times and gained just 11 points.

Bazunu was not at his best, but then again nor where the men in front of him and by the end of the run, we were looking over our shoulders not upwards.

But as we came to the end of this 11 game sequence we had turned it around a little and it should be noted that we had started to turn things around again.

The came the moment that perhaps turned the season and a painful one at that for Bazunu, he got injured in the warm up prior to the home game against Preston.

Most would have assumed that Joe Lumley the man who had warmed the bench in the League for every game since November would step in and Alex McCarthy move to the bench, but Russell martin had other ideas, he jumped McCarthy from the stands to the pitch, leaving Lumley still as back up.

In terms of goals conceded, initially not a lot changed, although McCarthy kept a clean sheet in that Preston game, the remaining 4 games of the regular League season would see him concede 9 goals, that was an average of 1.80 per game, Bazunu's average was 1.32.

So from this perspective, not a lot changed and in those 5 games we saw ourselves drop completely out of the automatic promotion running.

But what changed was the way we played our football, although the possession game was still being used, it could not be employed to the level it had been with Bazunu in goal.

Put bluntly Alex McCarthy can't play with his feet, so when he received the ball, if a simple pass was not on he was not afraid to put his foot through it, prior to this we would keep passing even when we were virtually on our own goal line.

We had to change our style and although it took a game or two, we slowly but surely adapted, so by the final game we had fine tuned our game and the victory at Leeds showed that we could change our style and still win games.

Most importantly though was that we had now stopped conceding goals and the 5-0 defeat at Leicester to give balance was our worst performance and defeat of the entire season and coming with only 3 games of the regular season left, did not bode well for our play off chances.

But change we did and we saw at West Brom was a goalkeeper and defence finally back in tune with each other, something it hadn't been since January, when one of Martin's shuffles had almost cost us the game at Swansea.

In those 3 play off games we would only concede just the one goal and that was in the final minute of injury time when we were 3-0 up against West Brom.

Alex McCarthy suddenly looked the part and justified why Russell Martin had made the drastic decision to jump him over Joe Lumley.

Undoubtably the manager got lucky with Bazunu's misfortune, there was no reason to change Bazunu at that time, if only for the fact that the two goalkeepers behind him were no better, but here we have to give Russell Martin credit, he could easily have put Joe Lumley in the side against Preston, Lumley was bought in as number two because he could play with his feet, that is why he was on the bench for much of the season ahead of McCarthy.

It is interesting to see just where Bazunu ranked in the Championship goalkeeping table these stats show that Bazunu was pretty much average when it came to percentage of shots on target saved and indeed not much different to Alex McCarthy.

If he had put Lumley in we would have continued with our full on possession football game and you have to ask yourself whether we could have still achieved the same results against both West Brom & Leeds if we had done so.

The answer would probably be no, Martin was not only making a goalkeeping decision in that 30 minutes before the Preston game, but a tactical one, at that moment he had realised that if we didn't change something then we would fail in the play offs against sides whose strengths were full out attack.

Of course the man who loses out here is Joe Lumley, he didn't deserve such public humiliation, but Russell Martin showed he was not afraid of taking difficult decisions.

Alex McCarthy will perhaps be seen as one of the hero's of the play off campaign, he did everything that could be expected of him as a keeper, but as the initial stats show, the issue was not about shot stopping, it was about tweaking the tactics, we sat deeper, we let sides come on to us, for most of the season we were getting caught on the break on too many occasions.

So for me Gavin Bazunu should get a lot of credit, goalkeeping these days is not so much about stopping shots, it is about commanding the area and in Russell Martin's teams being an outlet for a pass, credit should be given to Bazunu for his performances over 41 games.

In his 41 games we averaged 1.98 points per game, in McCarthy's 5 games it was 1.20, the issue with Saints was never the goalkeeper it was all about the way the team was set up defensively, when Alex McCarthy came in under the same circumstances as Bazunu, ie an ever changing defence, his stats were no better, it was all about how his inclusion forced a change in tactics.

Where we go next season with Gavin Bazunu is unclear, it is likely that he will play little part in the season, it will be the New year before he get back to any form of training and then it could take months to get match fit, Fraser Forster took around 10 months to return from a similar injury back in 2014/15 season.

Alex McCarthy has done well in the final 8 games he played this season, but the fact remains that during his career he has never been a number 1 choice keeper for a whole season, that has been the case at St Mary's, in his 8 seasons at the club he has not let us down when he has been called into the team for short periods, but having spent most of his career as a back up, he perhaps lacks that consistency and concentration needed to be 38 game a season keeper.

In those 8 seasons he has amassed just 129 League games for the club, an average of 16 games a season, in the past 3 seasons in regular League games he has played just 28 games.

Joe Lumley was a good back up keeper to sign this season, but at 29 he has spent much of the time as back up, just 207 League appearances to his name, mostly in the Championship, the highest level he has played in so far.

So for the coming season we need to recruit, perhaps keeping Alex McCarthy as a back up, but looking at the loan market for an experienced keeper at Premier league level who can still do a job, much as we did with the injury to Fraser Forster when Maarten Stekelenburg was brought to the club in 2015, a keeper who had played a lot of football in Europe and also some in the Premier League.

The truth is that if we are to survive in the Premier league next season we have to get a top class keeper and that won't be easy.

Photo: Action Images

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SanMarco added 11:14 - Jun 4
In retrospect I see the logic behind the McCarthy rather than Lumley. RM, unlike the rest of us, presumably knew straightaway that it wasn't just Preston but the rest of the season, including play-offs. Whatever his history McCarthy did his job in the play-offs. So a hard-nosed decision which paid off.

I feel with Bazuna that he isn't always a great shot-stopper. As I don't like tippy-tappy I am perhaps prejudiced because Bazuna is RM's tippy-tappy man.

If fit, Bazuna will obviously start as first choice next season and I think we need to bring in a new second choice ready to step in. Thanks to McCarthy for the play-offs but I don't think he is good enough for the Prem.

WestSussexSaint added 12:41 - Jun 4
It’s clear there are positives and negatives to each of the 3 keepers. Will Bazunu improve on his areas of weakness , quite possibly. The same is unlikely of McCarthy or Lumley. It’s unlikely that Bazunu will feature much next season so I agree with the call of recruiting an experienced keeper either on loan or a shortish contract until Gav is back up to speed. If there is a need to keep McCarthy or Lumley as back up due that time then no problem but we don’t need both. Don’t forget we also have Lis who has been out on loan so could be the back up.

highfield49 added 13:19 - Jun 4
Unless the club are being over cautious in terms of Bazunu's return from injury the he might as well be taken out of the equation for the whole of next season. Surely a lesson has been learned from the Ross Stewart saga that recovery from one injury can trigger secondary issues?
If Lis now qualifies for a work permit then surely he is either going to return to the UK or be sold to make way for a new signing? His spell at Troyes and Goztepe must surely have led to some sort of decision about his ability?
Personally I think the club should invest in a proven keeper and, if necessary, adapt the style of play to suit his qualities. What's the point of having a keeper who's good with his feet but has issues in other aspects of his game. Surely we'd sign outfield players if they could knock in twenty goals with either foot but weren't too good in the air?

DellBoyWally added 13:34 - Jun 4
What is the situation regarding our original signing, Lis, who was sent out on loan because of work permit problems. He would have been our first choice keeper. Bazunu was brought it in as 2nd choice.
He clearly has ability - regularly keeping clean sheets. Buzunu 's shot stopping is clearly suspect as shown in the official stats - in the bottom 3 of championship keepers. And that is purely shot-stopping, nothing to do with so called tippy happy.
If not Lis, then we need a proper stopper. H'49's comments are very relevant

Farlow added 14:14 - Jun 4
I have no doubt in my mind if Bazunu had stayed fit we would not be in the Premiership next season.I also think if Alex had come in earlier we could even have achieved Automatic promotion,but that would have robbed us of that great day at Wembley.

SaintNick added 14:57 - Jun 4

WestSussexSaint added 19:10 - Jun 4
Saints have just issued the confirmation of released players at the end of their contract. McCarthy is mentioned in the context of trying to work out a new deal. Hopefully this will be a back up on back up wages. The article also confirms Stu Armstrong will leave the club :(

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