I write this, a bottle of Merlot deep, at 11:30pm following the deeply depressing Huddersfield defeat.
Common sense is telling me to just go to sleep and think again in the morning. But, to be a football fan, to really care, is to suffer with your team.
And at the moment we are suffering.
I look at the team and ask myself: ‘What can be done?’
Well, although we’ve just seen 90 minutes go by with a big fat zero to add to the goals for column, I’m surprisingly not going to point at that area. Until recently we were one of the highest scorers in all of Europe, and nothing that Jerome or Oliviera have done this season suggests they won’t score goals again next season.
Neither am I going to point at the defence. ‘Why not?’ I hear you ask. Shooting fish in a barrel comes to mind. Too easy.
But I will point at the goalkeeping position. And I will point out the factoid tweeted by Jake Humphrey that although Michael McGovern has played 50 per cent more games than John Ruddy, JR has kept twice as many clean sheets. Because somebody should. It’s not often I find myself in agreement with our Jake, but it seems we live in unusual times.
I will point at the fact that McGovern has, for the second game running, been responsible for at least one, and possibly more, of the goals we have conceded, although God knows, Ryan Bennett has done his best to challenge him for the title of ‘most culpable’.
When McGovern was signed in that post-Euro euphoria of being one of the keepers of the tournament and being the ‘best goalkeeper Alex Neil had ever worked with’, the general reaction seemed to be ‘Oh. Didn’t know we needed a goalie. Well he looked good for Northern Ireland. In Neil we trust’.
In truth, we really didn’t need another goalkeeper. We had Ruddy. We had Rudd. We had Matthews. And latterly we had Paul Jones. Adding McGovern was a luxury acquired in the period where we had no CEO and where we chucked £90k at Ed Balls to hold that particular fort over the summer (despite saying Steve Stone was in charge). And where we promptly gave a three-year contract to a 32 year-old who had never played at this level before.
In terms of the goalkeeping position for next season we now have Ruddy out of contract and potentially in the ‘big pay cheque’ portion of his career.
We have McGovern with two years left of his contract who inspires zero confidence from the fan base and seemingly little confidence from what passes for our defence, as they have no clue where he is or whether he’s coming to collect the ball at any given time.
We have Rudd, also out of contract, who reports suggest has been average at Charlton in League One.
We have Matthews, who has earned rave reviews at Hamilton, but following McGovern and Tony Andreu, this hardly seems the Everest of achievement pinnacles.
And we have Paul Jones who has been the quiet, invisible number three, doing reasonably well whenever called upon for unobtrusive duty. The Carlo Nash commemorative award awaits.
We have to resolve this. Either bite the bullet and give Ruddy a contract or scrap the majority and bring someone else in as first choice keeper.
With his remaining two years of contract and current place in the team, McGovern seems to be in pole position for August. This would be an accident waiting to happen. He’s a reasonable shot stopper, yes. But so should any goalkeeper be at this level.
He has no presence, no communication, and no command of his area. He was only here because Alex Neil had a soft spot for him. We don’t need to suffer under that misplaced loyalty any more.
Getting rid of McGovern may be the most expensive option, but the alternative, to keep playing him for financial rather than footballing reasons, will bleed the life out of this team and fan base. Put him up for sale and take any offer. Any offer. A set of tracksuits and a subscription to What Car magazine?
Done. You have been.
Ruddy? I still think he’s our best option. Burton’s second goal in our recent abysmal away defeat aside (if you remember it was kind of sandwiched in-between the abysmal away defeat to Rotherham and the abysmal away defeat to Sheffield Wednesday – both a little way before the abysmal away defeats to Aston Villa and Huddersfield), I don’t think he’s been glaringly responsible for too much this season.
When he’s in form he’s still one of the best keepers in this division, and if we can side-line the absolute circus that he’s had to play behind for four years and bring in some defenders with more backbone than a jellyfish, he should be good enough.
You need some continuity when you make massive changes. I reckon Big John would be ours at the back. Keep Jones as another steady Eddie, and one of Rudd or Matthews as your three options, and offload the other.
Now is not the time to back the errors of the predecessors and keep McGovern because we foolishly signed a big expensive contract. Now is the time to right our wrongs so we can move forward.