There’s a fair bit of snobbery in this great game when it comes to those who’ve played it, managed in it or run a club denouncing those who haven’t. All of us on the periphery have, at least, kicked a ball (albeit not very well!) and I seem to recall the same applied to Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger.
But when it comes to goalkeepers, I think we all have to hold our hands up, so to speak. Unless you’ve played between the sticks at a reasonable level, it’s well nigh impossible to understand the technicalities of the position. So this column defers to an expert when it comes to Sheffield Wednesday’s array of goalkeepers.
Why? Well, we can all applaud a brilliant save or a howler. It takes no skill to spot either. And, by and large, that’s how we gauge a keeper’s performance. A few of the first and he’ll get an 8 or a 9 in the paper next day; just one of the second and it’s often a 5 at best.
But I’ve never understood why an apparently inactive keeper, whose team romps to victory, gets a standard 6 when it’s not his fault he hasn’t been busy and, besides, he’s done his job by keeping switched on. Minimum 7 in my view.
Which brings me to Cameron Dawson and what a trained eye might see in his nailing down of the position. And it’s not necessarily his many saves, which the specialists commonly see as a minimum and routine requirement of the job. Dawson has been under a fierce and unfair level of scrutiny because of manager Jos Luhukay’s faith in him – and Joe Wildsmith – at the expense of the understandably popular Keiren Westwood.
But, let’s face it, we (the rest of us) only really focus on keepers when the ball gets near them. There are finer points we don’t see, like positioning when the ball is in the other half – or hear, as in communication with defenders.
For former Owls keeper Kevin Pressman, Dawson ticks boxes well beyond the obvious shot-saving stuff (of which there has been plenty from Dawson) that we all witness.
And it extends to the way the team plays in the other direction, allowing Luhukay’s side to push up on the opposition.
Wildsmith, in the wings, is another outstanding young keeper. Has Luhukay got them the right way round? “From what I’ve seen, yes,” says Kevin, newly appointed to the Northern Ireland Under 21s. “I like the look of Cameron with my eyes as a coach. He’s got the jersey and for me rightly so.
“There are more important, subtle things, than saves. I’m impressed with his mobility around the box. He supports the defence, allowing them to play a high line because they’re confident he can sweep.”
In fact, confidence is something Dawson exudes and has much needed to withstand this test. He’s listed as just 6’ 0” in height, small for a keeper these days, and yet he looks bigger. Youngster? Well, he’s 23 and has a fair bit of loan experience. He’s on a big stage now but seems to have the personality, besides the ability, needed to perform.
He needs to be backed for who he is rather than compared with someone he isn’t. And the same applies to his manager who seems to be perpetually one game away from having his future questioned when, in fact, he heads
into tomorrow’s Hillsborough clash with Championship leaders Leeds in as competitive a position as I feel Wednesday could hope for in all the circumstances.