I’ve always said that there are only a handful of really top keepers in the world at anyone time and plenty of poor ones. Between that there are a large number who could hold their own at any level given the chance. Latics have had their fair share of the latter in recent times, in the likes of Roy Carroll, John Filan and Mike Pollitt, but at the start of this season signed a keeper who had once been tipped for the very top, and was still on the fringes of the England squad, so how did our (sometimes) green jumpered guardians fare?
It’s fair to say that Chris Kirkland surprised us all. Not only did he manage to keep out of the physio’s room for most of the season, he signed a permanent deal and made history by being the first man playing for Latics to pull on an England shirt. In the end though the season will in down as an disappointing one with his broken finger and dodgy shoulder seeing him go missing, just when we needed him most.
There have been times over the course of the year where if has suffered from either a lack of confidence or a back four that didn’t warrant being called a defence, but that shouldn’t deflect from his overall performance. We might have been leaking goals for fun but without Kirkland it may have been worse.
After a season where every goalkeeping mistake was followed by speculation over whether Pollitt or Filan (whichever was on the bench) would have done that, it was nice to know that the man between the sticks was genuinely the best man for the job. It would have been nicer to see him there for the run in, but our problems in recent weeks run further than the keeper.
The real test is whether Kirkland will stick around. He will harbour hopes of making the European Championship squad and may see Latics as a barrier to that. He seems like an honest lad though and I doubt that he’ll go searching for a move, what happens if an opportunity is presented to him is another matter.
Jewell’s practice of sending his second choice keeper out on loan to keep him sharp may have backfired on the club, but it gave Filan one last hurrah in the top flight. Without injuries to Kirkland and Pollitt, the big Aussie’s time at Latics could have faded away in the stiffs.
As it was he got his chance and, although there was the odd good moment, overall he showed his earlier decision to take semi-retirement down under to be a good one. A good servant, whose legs were just starting to fail him we wish John good luck wherever he ends up next season.
We’ve not seen much of Pollitt this season. It became clear from an early stage that Jewell would prefer to keep his main replacement out on loan, playing in real games was more likely to keep him sharp. A seemingly sensible tactic, but one that didn’t pay off.
When Kirkland got injured and the time came to exercise that 24-hour recall clause, a thigh strain meant that Polly wasn’t fit to take his place between the sticks.
He made it for the final two games, but didn’t have enough to do over the 180 minutes to make a judgement. Chris Hutchings has put a one year contract on the table, and last year’s heroics alone have earned Mike another chance, but it’s likely that there will be better offers from elsewhere.
There’s every chance that the lure of first team football will prove too much for a keeper who isn’t getting any younger, and with Kirkland in front of him at Latics, you have to assume that he won’t get that at the JJB. If he does go, then he’ll be remembered well.
He came in our hour of need and disappeared quickly and quietly. A couple of games for the reserves and a seas ton the bench for a month or so were the best the on loan keeper could have realistically expected and were all he got. Nash was rumoured to be after a permanent move to the Premier League, but it’s highly unlikely to be with Latics.
In all it’s been another good year for the men between the sticks at the JJB, even if they have spent a great deal more time picking the ball out of the net. However things could look pretty bare there next season. If Kirkland does stick around then there’ll be a search on for someone to cover for those inevitable injuries and it’ll be a hard task to find someone of the quality of the players we’re losing.
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