End of Season Review: goalkeepers
We`ll be going in order of position and any player who got onto the pitch for a first-team match this season, for however short a period of time, be it in the Capital One Cup or Play-off Final, is getting reviewed.
Deep breath, here goes...
1. Manuel Almunia: 39 league starts + 0 substitute appearances (0 goals)
Signed to replace the outgoing Scott Loach last summer after the plug was pulled on a deal to bring
Tom Heaton to Vicarage Road, Almunia has been a breath of fresh air between the sticks at the Vic`.
The biggest black mark against Loach`s name was his indecision and reluctance to leave the safety of his goal-line. In recruiting Almunia, Watford signed not only a very able goalkeeper, but a player with superb experience of playing at the highest level of club football. Throughout the duration of the season that experience has shown.
When Jonathan Bond deputised for the Spaniard when he was injured in March and April, the trust that the back three had in Almunia became clear, because it was evident they did not trust Bond anything like as much.
There have been mistakes, of course, but every goalkeeper makes mistakes and they have been few and far between - indeed, only Wolves at home sticks in the memory.
If we harp back to a chat we had last summer with the editor of Vital Arsenal one thing that was said has rung true: "The only reason his mistakes were high profile was because he was playing for Arsenal. He makes the same mistakes most other 'keepers make it's just there's more of a spotlight on him and he's judged a little more harshly."
At 'little old Watford`, the world`s media aren`t bothered if Almunia drops a clanger, and nor are millions of Arsenal fans worldwide. Now 36 and one of the elder statesman of the Watford squad, Almunia is in a place where he can finally be judged fairly and labelled as the dependent No.1 that he really is.
"Almunia has become one of the key cogs in the team as the season has worn on. Looked a little rusty in the opening weeks of the season, which is to be expected given his previous lack of football, but has turned into a calming influence at the back, capable of making crucial saves which have earned us points. And who can forget his part in the dramatic ending to the play-off game against Leicester."
30. Jonathan Bond: 7 + 1 (0)
Thrust into action more often than he would have expected, it`s been a generally strong showing from Bond this term, albeit with a couple of notable errors thrown in for good measure.
Bond has followed the tried-and-tested Watford development route, spending most of last term out on-loan before returning to the fold this term to fulfil the role of Almunia`s regular deputy, filling in admirably when called upon.
As cited with Almunia though, all goalkeepers make errors and whilst Bond dropped a couple of clangers, he has also shown the kind of attributes required to kick on and become an excellent goalkeeper; one should not lose sight of the fact that he is just 19 also - a baby in goalkeeping terms.
The most important tools of a good 'keeper are evidently there - Bond is an excellent shot-stopper with superb reactions and agility. He has also shown more of a willingness to come off his line than the aforementioned Loach ever did during his time between the sticks in WD18.
With Almunia surely only a couple of years away from hanging up his gloves, Bond`s path to the No.1 jersey looks pretty clear, so long as he can continue to develop at the rate he has done over the past couple of seasons.
"A real breakthrough year for the goalkeeping understudy, despite starting just a handful of games. Capable of making mistakes that we saw against Sheffield Wednesday and Blackpool but the mental capacity to come back and make some incredible saves stands him in good stead. His ability to take crosses and command his box has improved with every game culminating in that fantastic display and clean sheet at Hull with a near perfect display."
34. Jack Bonham: 0 + 1 (0)
If nothing else, Bonham will never forget his full professional debut. Thrust into first-team action in the most unfortunate of circumstances against Leeds United on the final day of the season, Bonham looked very assured if you take out Ross McCormack`s winner.
I maintain that the first goal was the fault of Joel Ekstrand as the senior defender, but the United winner was undoubtedly due to the floppy palms of Bonham, but no matter, these are the kind of experiences all goalkeepers go through.
Next season will be a big one for Bonham, some regular gametime is needed. With his contract up and rumours of a trial at Brentford emanating from Twitter, Bonham`s future might well lie away from the Vic`.
Wfc123: 66 minutes v Leeds is hardly enough time to judge the young man.
"It`s a football cliché to say as a player you have to be ready at any moment, but the events which saw Jack Bonham thrust into the Hornets season on the final day against Leeds were ridiculous to say the least. Yes, he made the mistake which meant we ended up losing the game but let`s not forget given it was 1-1 at the time; we had not done enough to overtake Hull into second place either."
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