The last line of defence. Sometimes our custodians can be heroes and fans favourites, though it takes only one slip for a terrific afternoon’s work to wrecked beyond repair.
Scottish football has been treated to some greats over the years. Unfortunately, there aren’t many today who stand up to the likes of Jim Leighton or Andy Goram, but there’s still a few stoppers capable of getting the fans off their feet.
This is a selection of the 12 best overall and not just their form this season. Joel Sked of The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast counts down the list.
12. Dean Brill (Inverness CT)
Such is the standard of the goalkeepers in the Scottish game that when you click on the player’s profile on Soccerbase you are met with ‘Dean Brill has not played in any matches in 2015/2016’. Yet he just pipped Alan Combe, Paul Gallacher and Alan Rough to the final spot on the list.
Because there is nothing to say about his performances this season it is the performances of his replacement Owain Fon Williams which has helped him make such a prestigious list. Fon Williams’ has looked indecisive and unsure of his angles. Brill, who is by no means perfect, at least puts his defenders at ease.
Inverness will be looking forward to welcoming back the commanding presence of Brill who has proven himself to be a fine stopper and relative safe pair of hands.
11. Danny Rogers (Falkirk)
For the second season in succession Rogers has impressed on loan in the Championship. He has been an integral part of Falkirk’s surprising success, sandwiched between Rangers and Hibernian, with the Bairns having conceded a measly 34 goals in 35 games. Only runaway leaguer winners Rangers have conceded less.
However, it didn’t start swimmingly for Rogers. Performances weren’t riddled with errors but there were one or two signs which may have discouraged some onlookers, the nadir a 7-0 reverse to Ross County in the League Cup. What perhaps was most disconcerting was the way he dealt with crosses. Especially in the early part of the season he was very ‘soft’. Communication with this backline is an other area which needs improving.
Yet this was a 21-year-old (turned 22 last month) goalkeeper who was settling into new surroundings. Both of these areas of his game will improve with experience. It is understandable for a young keeper to lack the vocal dominance, especially in a new team. He has grown stronger as the season has progressed. Rogers possesses a real elasticity which allows him to contort his body to repel the most awkward of shots, while his feline-like spring makes it easier for him to cover the goal. He delivered one of the performances of the Championship season in Falkirk’s 2-1 defeat of Rangers in December which included a wonderful penalty stop.
• Click here to listen to the episode of The Terrace Podcast where the top 12 goalkeepers were debated.
10. Scott Brown (Aberdeen)
Thankfully for Brown this list was compiled before Aberdeen imploded at McDiarmid Park on Friday evening, where Brown and Mark Reynolds appeared to be in determined competition for the worst individual performance of the season. In 90 minutes Brown effectively confirmed he won’t be anywhere near the number 1 jersey next season with a Basil Fawlty-esque display.
If it wasn’t for the inept goalkeeping of Liverpool’s Adam Bogdan, Brown wouldn’t have made the list. Instead, Danny Ward would have featured in the podium places. However, the Englishman has had to step up to the plate in the second half of the season. It would be foolish to say he hasn’t let Aberdeen down because he has, yet as a deputy in Scottish football terms he is decent. I am already exasperated at the lack of good goalkeepers in the country with little strength in depth. Brown epitomises that. He is capable but does not excel at any areas, neither is he particularly bad at any area, although he could learn to move his feet quicker.
9. Scott Fox (Ross County)
If Ross County fans embodied Garth from Wayne’s World and performed his mating dance to ‘Foxy Lady’ every time Fox made a save their number one would be further up the list. Alas, they just pretend to be mating stags. It is safe to say Fox’s career was stagnating (ahem) at Firhill. Since being called up to Scotland while at the Harry Wraggs he never really kicked on and didn’t look like a significant loss when he opted to move north.
It has worked out for all parties. Fox is with a top six team and helped his side win their first major trophy with a fine, albeit slightly capricious, performance in the semi-final against Celtic, only for injury to cost him a starting berth in the final.
His final season with Thistle was arguably his worst with a number of desultory performances complete with a range of mistakes. (Soccerbase suggest Fox is 6ft. That can’t be?) Anyway, what has stuck out is the lack of problems he has encountered with crossed balls which suggests that he has grown smarter deciding which crosses to come for and when to stay on his line. Overall, Fox has been an underrated signing and a definite improvement on Mark ‘apparently once a competent goalkeeper’ Brown.
8. Wes Foderingham (Rangers)
The 25-year-old Englishman should have arrived with a health warning to Rangers fans. From very early on in Mark Warburton’s tenure it was clear how he wanted his team to operate; build from the back, open, every player comfortable on the ball. The goalkeeper had to fit into this system. In the first league game he caused more than a few heart palpitations with his distribution. Wayward would be one way to describe it, yet he looked like a goalkeeper eager to go on a Rene Higuita style mazey.
Since then his distribution has been more accurate, especially his ability to find players with a cross field pass, growing into such demanding position at such a demanding club. When Rangers are attacked they can be vulnerable simply due to the nature of their style. He is quick and athletic which helps him sweep effectively and cover his goal efficiently. He is still prone to jittery moments with some of the simpler sides of goalkeeping 101.
7. Neil Alexander (Hearts)
It has been another solid season for the oldest goalkeeper on the list, even if his placing near the top half is yet another barometer of the paucity of number 1s in the country. Take a poll of where Hearts fans would like to see the team strengthened in the off-season and goalkeeper would score highly alongside striker and left-back. Yet, if the next campaign starts with Alexander tending goal there would be few sleepless nights; he has been a shrewd signing bringing experience and know-how to a young squad. On more than one occasion he has defied his advancing years and stooped/dropped/sprung/slithered to get to low shots keepers 10 years his junior would be proud to get down to.
He understands his limitations with crosses and opts to punch rather than catch when surrounded by bodies. He has given Hearts fans a few scares with the ball at his feet, at times too composed, however, this helps him fit into the style Robbie Neilson demands of the team. He has spoken of wanting to play until his 40s and if he stays as agile there is no reason he can’t achieve just that.
READ MORE - Neil Alexander wins £84k claim against Rangers
6. Michael McGovern (Hamilton Accies)
The first of two goalkeepers on the list who will likely be heading to Euro 2016 and the Northern Irishman should be starting for his country in France. Looking at his international progress this season has been an unmitigated success for the 31-year-old, earning six of his eight caps during this season, including starting six of the last seven internationals.
Ironically, as he established himself for his national team his domestic form suffered. After a strong first season with Hamilton Academical back in the Premiership, McGovern looked fallible as he and most of his team mates suffered a mid-season dip. Rated highly at previous side Falkirk he was a real coup for the Accies. Tall, strong and commanding, he has been a reassuring presence, which has only been strengthened with the captaincy. He has recently looked back to his best as Hamilton have pulled themselves away from danger with a fine display at Tannadice.
5. Jamie MacDonald (Kilmarnock)
For much of the season Jimmy Mack (when are you coming back?) has been like Goldberg in the Mighty Ducks when he was tied to the goals and had to face a barrage of pucks. During Gary Locke’s tenure it was open season on the Kilmarnock goal; the structural integrity of the backline was so questionable you expected it to feature on Cowboy Builders. The player who prevented beatings turning into good old tonkings, draws turning into defeats and wins into draws was MacDonald.
No goalkeeper in the division has faced or saved more shots than the Killie captain. He has played a very familiar role to one he suffered at Tynecastle two seasons previously. Behind a porous defence which included Brad McKay and was protected by Jamie Hamill and Scott Robinson, MacDonald fought a losing battle. Even if he was reunited with Robinson and Hamill it has not been quite so ominous. Yet, he has still been called on to produce save after save; his quick feet along the goal line and ability to move weight quickly between his feet bringing about a number of spectacular saves with the odds heavily in the striker’s favour. The arrival of Lee Clark has witnessed an upturn in defensive structure even if they are likely to have to survive a play-off spot. MacDonald’s heroics will be crucial.
READ MORE - Jamie MacDonald savours return to Easter Road
4. Alan Mannus (St Johnstone)
Such is the esteem Mannus is held at Terrace Towers he has just missed out on a place in the top three despite having arguably his worst season in a St Johnstone strip. Add to that the fact he is above Michael McGovern despite McGovern being Michael O’Neil’s number 1 for Northern Ireland, and he may have just lost his place to Zander Clark for the season’s run-in.
But he is fourth! Surely there are some positives? There are! Mannus is the definition of dependable. He is the Tony Pulis of SPFL goalkeepers. Unfussy and a safe pair of hands. Instead of looking like an ageing bouncer with a cartoon laugh, Mannus sports a hipster beard and actually suits it. He has few weaknesses. His safe and no-nonsense approach to goalkeeping – catch the ball when it can be caught, punch when under pressure, kick when it needs to be kicked – fits in with what Tommy Wright wants with his team. It is little surprise that his downturn in his exemplary standards has coincided with an unsettled St Johnstone defence but look around the top two leagues and Mannus would still be a very satisfying upgrade.
3. Tomas Cerny (Partick Thistle)
The Hibs-effect. The Easter Road-factor. The East Mains-malaise. Release a player from the grip of Hibs and he is suddenly given a new lease of life. One minute everything is grey and bleak and the next minute the grass is green again and the sky is blue. Cerny spent the latter half of last season restricted to the Easter Road substitutes bench as Mark Oxley (not even close to threatening for a place on the list) tended goal.
Fast forward 12 months and he can sleep soundly knowing he has made this list. THE LIST. Scott Fox may be performing admirably in Dingwall but there can be little debate that Thistle have upgraded. Cerny’s box-shape allows him to fill the goal making the target smaller for strikers. The keen-hiker possesses power from his legs and spreads himself with his long arms really well in one-v-one situations. He is also capable of the spectacular as well as being trustworthy with the bread and butter. A fine signing for Thistle.
2. Scott Bain (Dundee)
Seen by some as the heir to the national trio of Craig Gordon, Allan McGregor and David Marshall. He was called up for the recent friendly victory over Czech Republic after another fine season at Dens Park. It has not been as noteworthy as his first season but much of that can be put down to playing behind an ever-changing backline, both in personnel and system. As many as nine players have been used across two systems with little time for partnerships to be fostered. Coupled with Dundee’s narrowness he has been exposed from time to time, meaning he has been facing more difficult situations leading to one of the lower saver percentages.
For a goalkeeper so young, who is only in his second season of full-time football as a number one, he makes very few errors. He was sent off in the Dundee derby earlier in the season, committing a foul many goalkeepers seem to do. His reflexes and agility are second to none, easily better than all those behind him in the list. Terrace Podcast contributor Gary Cocker puts it best: “of all the goalies in the top 12 he’s got the longest shelf life and fewest deficiencies to fix”.
1. Craig Gordon (Celtic)
The undisputed number 1. It is not a slight on him but Gordon has faced little competition for the spot. Domestically his form has bordered on faultless. The old adage for strikers is ‘he has got good feet for a big man’. Well for goalkeepers Gordon can get down to shots really well for someone so tall. His 6ft 4in frame can make him appear an impenetrable barrier to strikers facing him up.
He is not a raving-loony of a goalkeeper. He is methodical and calm, a calming presence behind such an unhinged defence. Under Ronny Deila both his sweeping (needed when playing behind a defence who take risks) and kicking have improved from his younger days at Hearts and then Sunderland. Like his team mates, staff and club in general, he let himself down in Europe with a couple of sloppy displays, namely against Molde and Fenerbache. However, he is back in the reckoning for the Scotland number 1 jersey and will give the new manager one less headache when he walks through the door at Celtic Park to be greeted by an uneven, unbalanced and unreliable squad. In his number 1 he has someone he can trust.