A natural focal point of many Premier League match analyses have scrutinised goalkeeping performances. After Robert Green’s mishap against the USA which set the tone for the rest of England’s nightmarish World Cup, Journalists throughout the country have retrospectively asked the question ‘what might have been?’ had Green not been picked and their favoured choice been preferred.
Such is the fickle nature of football that doubts are beginning to emanate about Joe Hart’s form. A couple of mishandled crosses against Switzerland sent hearts fluttering for a moment or two before he, as usual, calmly rectified the situation. Criticism has been fiercer, however, in the aftermath of conceding to Nikola Kalinic – a goal which unquestionably denied a dominant Manchester City three points against a pragmatic if frustratingly defensive Blackburn team. The decision to come out of his box to clear wasn’t in itself a bad one and had Kolo Toure been aware of his presence Hart would have put a routine clearance into touch. The problem is that the goal came from a breakdown in communication, a part of Hart’s game which has seen him become one of the Premier League’s foremost goalkeepers. Being the confident and talented custodian that he is, there should be no doubt that Hart will quickly recover.
The bigger problem for Manchester City on Saturday was the performance of the goalkeeper at the other end of the pitch. Paul Robinson has quietly went about his business of resurrecting a career which seemed on the verge of collapse following the infamous swing-and-a-miss which saw Gary Neville’s weak back pass evade him in Croatia. Never more since then has a performance of his been so lauded. To City’s frustration, compounding a spluttering start to the 2010/11 season, it had to come against them. Typical City, it has long since become customary to think. No doubt about it, Robinson’s saves which denied City a sure-fire winner were international class. On the basis of that display, what fine back-up he would offer to Joe Hart had he not already announced his international retirement.
Nevertheless, City must look inwards for reasons as to why they did not win as well as applauding the performance of Robinson. Robinson’s saves – coupled with a wonderful instinctive block by Christopher Samba from Jo inside the six-yard box – were crucial but still one felt that he was not worked enough. Too many times there were chances from which City should have hit the target which flew wide.
For all the assets that Shaun Wright-Phillips has in his arsenal the ability to make the right decision isn’t one of them. A valuable point at White Hart Lane could have been converted into a barely deserved victory had he not taken an eternity to get the ball out from under his feet. On Saturday the quality of his final pass and shot had improved little. All too often the ripple of anticipation which electrifies Eastlands when the ball is at his feet is soon replaced with groans of disappointment at a shot skewed wide, a cross misplaced into touch. At this moment in time there simply seems to be a range of better alternatives to Wright-Phillips in that position. Why spend all that money on the tantalising, delicate gifts of David Silva if he is to spend so much time collecting splinters on the substitute’s bench? He and Adam Johnson must be compatible in the same team.
Johnson too was culpable of missing the target, even if his first-half curler following a pitch length one-two with James Milner warranted a more tangible reward. The innumerable near-misses provoked Milner into comment after the game. Commenting on Rovers’ defensiveness, he said: “We knew they would make it tough, sit men behind the ball.” When this is the case, the onus is on City to break them down. To do so, a bit of quality, cold ruthlessness must not be lacking. At the top of the table, seven points ahead of City at this early stage, Chelsea have fought similar battles against inferior opponents attempting to stifle them. Their goals tally suggests a confidence amongst their forwards which is lacking in City’s attack as they reach the penalty area. Milner alluded to this: “I thought we created enough chances,” [to win] “but we did not quite have the luck you need.”
In spite of Milner’s protestations, there was more than a lack of luck which cost City valuable points. Blackburn were defensive and slightly fortunate, but a valuable lesson must be learned from Saturday’s draw – chances must be taken to win games. Heaven knows City are creating more than enough to do so.