Column: The big Aaron Ramsdale decision that Sheffield United must make with goalkeeper low on confidence

Throughout his managerial career, ever since its very first days in the Sheffield Sunday League with Bradway, Chris Wilder has relished tough selection decisions.

Tuesday, 19th January 2021, 6:00 am

If he has them, he reasons, then the team is more than likely going well. Players on the outside are pushing those current in possession of the shirt hard, giving him genuine dilemmas in the days leading up to naming his team.

Those decisions are still difficult now, albeit for a completely different reason; Wilder and his trusted staff are desperately searching for the formula to help Sheffield United's season get back on track. In 19 league games this season, United have fielded 10 different combinations in midfield - a direct consequence of not only form, but issues of both injury and illness.

One man to have started every game for United this season is Aaron Ramsdale and whatever your view on his summer signing, it's beyond question that he's had a difficult start to his second spell as a Blade, to say the very least.

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Three more goals against him in the defeat to Spurs took his tally to 32 for the season after 19 games. Considering United conceded just 39 across the entirety of their last campaign, the drop-off is stark.

The caveat for me is that that cannot be solely attributed to Ramsdale. He had the difficult, if not nigh-on impossible, task of replacing Dean Henderson between the posts, a man whose character and performances captured the hearts of United fans throughout his two loan spells.

Despite coming through the ranks at United, Ramsdale never established such goodwill. He was very much a rookie when he was sold to Bournemouth, and returned to Bramall Lane determined not to repeat the experience of last season when he was relegated with the Cherries. So far, it hasn't gone to plan for anyone.

Despite attempts to paint an alternative picture in both the media and amongst fans, Ramsdale wasn't at fault for any of Spurs' three goals. In fact, of those 32 conceded this season, only one of Marcus Rashford's goals for Manchester United could be seen as a genuine howler, when the shot was straight at Ramsdale but squirmed through his body.

That Bramall Lane goalmouth can be a lonely place at times, and Aaron Ramsdale looks like he's feeling that more often than not at the minute: Andrew Yates/Sportimage

But at the same time, the 22-year-old hardly exudes confidence at this moment in time. There was an uneasy kick just seconds into the Spurs game and it was noticeable that, when a cross came in from the left, John Egan almost took Ramsdale out as he rushed to clear. Either there wasn't a shout from his goalkeeper, or there was - and both scenarios pose their own questions.

Time to nail the colours to the mast, as it were. Ramsdale is a good goalkeeper. Not yet a 'great' at this level - not many are, at his age - and suffering, to my eye at least, from a dreadful and completely understandable lack of confidence.

This weekend sees United take another break from Premier League relegation battling and assume the unfamiliar tag of favourites again, at home to lower-mid-table League One side Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup.

Should Wilder stick or twist with his goalkeeper? There are two schools of thought at play - start him in the hope that he can secure another clean sheet and regain some confidence back, against players not of the level of Harry Kane and Co.

Or rest him, giving either Michael Verrips or Wes Foderingham a rare run-out and allow Ramsdale a weekend off to clear his head.

Without knowing the player at all, I'd be inclined to guess that he'd want to play, given the chance.

If his name does feature on the teamsheet at 2pm on Saturday, then Wilder and his staff will believe that is the best thing for the player and the team. The same if he is on the bench, or rested completely. They, after all, will have seen him all week in training, and have a better grasp of the player's psychological make-up than any of us casual observers.

But that Bramall Lane goalmouth can be a lonely place at times, and Ramsdale looks like he's feeling that more often than not at the minute.