Why our perception of goalies should change

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IT WASN’T the scoreline, clean sheet or pass completion percentage.

Not even the number of free-kicks conceded or tackles made.

For me, the most impressive statistic spawned by Sheffield United’s League One curtain-raiser against Shrewsbury Town was the attendance of 18,286. Confirmation, if indeed any were needed, that the loyalty and durability of the hosts’ support cannot be questioned.

Few clubs who suffered the crushing disappointment of losing a play-off final on penalties, then depart the Capital One Cup in exactly the same fashion three months later, could mobilise similar backing.

Danny Wilson admitted during the immediate aftermath of last weekend’s fixture that he felt an obligation to try and entertain.

More often than not, the manager and his team have delivered their side of the bargain. It is commendable that, in such economically turbulent times, United’s fans appear intent on doing exactly the same.

Nevertheless, it is still worth nothing the ability to pull a crowd which was the 13th highest in the country can also be a double edged sword.

New signings previously used to competing in sparsely populated stadiums need to become acclimatised before they can cope with the pressure of such a claustrophobic, cloying atmosphere. Educated in the ways of Wilson and his staff before United can maximise their potential.

The same goes for some of those who paid hard earned cash to watch a combative if not entirely compelling clash against the visitors from Greenhous Meadow.

One incident in the second-half illustrated this perfectly.

Under Wilson’s tutelage, possession is nine tenths of the law. Something not to be conceded cheaply. The key to winning games.

So when United, having worked the ball across the pitch and back again, still found themselves with nowhere to go, it was surprising to hear groans of derision echo around the stadium when it was recycled to Mark Howard so they could start all over again.

Curiously, had a full-back or centre-half been the recipient, I doubt whether the reaction would have been the same.

Likewise, similar decisions are made countless times during most Premier League fixtures and barely raise a murmur.

That’s not to say followers of top-flight teams are more knowledgeable than their counterparts further down the pyramid. They’re not. But, in some ways, they are quite clearly different.

Most modern day goalkeepers are as adept with their feet as they are with their hands. So why not utilise them as a 12th outfield player when the opportunity presents itself?

After all, only minutes later a defender did exactly what was asked and lumped a long punt hopefully upfield. Town seized their chance and, within seconds, created a chance which was ultimately missed but the lesson was surely there to be learned.

Patience can be a virtue. Both on the terraces and turf.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1