Monday Musings – Calamity and heroics add more volume to Albion’s goalkeeper debate

As was pointed out after the final whistle of Brighton’s 3rd round FA Cup tie with Newport on Sunday night by Opta Joe, Brighton goalkeeper Jason Steele made just one save in the 120 minutes preceding the penalty shootout and made an error that led to Newport’s 96th minute equaliser, but saved four penalties during the shootout. A story of personal redemption, but also one that highlights Albion’s ongoing goalkeeping issues.

Steele admitted it was his fault for the goal after the game. And fan site We are Brighton posted on Twitter in their usual deprecating way: “Would now be a good time to remind everyone that Graham Potter thinks Jason Steele is a better goalkeeper than Maty Ryan? 👀”.

It’s a fair point and I would add fellow Albion goalkeeper Christian Walton to the debate too. It’s a subject I discussed just last week and one I suspected that we haven’t heard the last of.

Nonetheless I’m gutted for Jason Steele for his mistake, but he’s shown over his career that he’s got that in his makeup. Anyone who watched him play for one of his previous club’s can confirm that. A fact most infamously demonstrated at Sunderland during a difficult period for Steele captured in the Netflix series “Sunderland Till I Die”.

But Steele has constantly shown more than enough stoicism in his career to pick himself up and keep coming back for more. So the fact that after the error for the Newport equaliser he managed to refocus on the task at hand in the shootout should come as no surprise either. Rather than losing his head like some others would in the circumstances, he refocused, remembered his research and followed it to the letter, saving four of Newport’s seven penalty kicks.

Andy Naylor stated in a recent piece for The Athletic: “The club believe a No 2 goalkeeper requires a different skill set. Steele is experienced and was signed as a back-up, which makes him more suited to a place on the bench than Ryan, who is accustomed to life as a No 1.”

It’s a fair point and suggests Graham Potter doesn’t necessarily think that Steele is better than Ryan as per We are Brighton’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion, but rather that he’s seen a good back up keeper to have around. Highlighted by how Robert Sanchez jumped Steele in the pecking order when Maty Ryan was dropped earlier in the season leaving him remaining to warm the bench alongside Albion’s other substitutes.

Steele was generous in his moment of glory after the game in praising Albion’s goalkeeper coach Ben Roberts. Who is credited with much of the improvement that’s been seen in many of Albion’s goalkeepers in recent years, including that of David Stockdale in Albion’s Championship promotion winning season.

In Steele’s defence, Goalkeepers often make mistakes after being exposed by their defence. In many cases where Steele has struggled in his career he’s been playing in a struggling teams, last night being no exception. For the equaliser, Albion should have stopped the cross from occurring in the first place. No cross, no error.

We can focus on Steele’s mistake, just like many did Dan Burn’s from the week before. But how did Albion even give Newport the chance to put a cross in the box from their left-hand side whilst defending a 1-goal lead in the dying moments of injury time, having had a throw in on their right-hand side at halfway less than 30 seconds before? As has been far too common this season, it was a case of naive play from Albion whilst in possession that again cost them a crucial lead.

Moreover, as one person on Twitter also pointed out to me, Albion had just switch their left back too, replacing match winner March for Bernardo. Something which adds to the Potter “over-tinkering” debate, but that’s another can of worms entirely.

Overall, a calamitous 30 seconds for Albion and a 5-minute period from scoring to conceding the equaliser that encompasses almost everything which Albion’s season has been about so far. As Graham Potter said after the game “Traumatic”.

Brighton v Newport (2013)

Newport County just keep causing cup upsets. It’s helpful not just for the South Walians but also for Albion, with each one making Albion’s defeat at their hands in 2013 look ever less embarrassing.

Back in the early stages of the 2013/14 season Albion were still reeling from the aftermaths of the previous season’s playoff semi-final defeat to rivals Crystal Palace. Following the very drawn out and public sacking of manager Gus Poyet which followed over the summer, the former Barcelona B team manager Oscar García had been brought in as his replacement to manage the team and finish the job that Poyet almost managed but ultimately fell short of, get Albion into the Premier League.

So a weeknight League Cup tie against a League Two side recently promoted to the Football League hardly seemed like a priority, but nonetheless was an opportunity for García to get his first win in charge of Albion after a 2-1 defeat in his first game away to Leeds. But despite that, Albion made a number of changes to a team that featured then young prospects and now current Albion regulars, Solly March and Lewis Dunk as unused substitutes.

Albion started the game the dominant team and quickly had the ball in the Newport net after a Kemy Agustien cross found Jake Forster-Caskey, but the goal was ruled out for offside. Not long after Albion did go 1-0 up with Ashley Barnes putting away a Will Buckley cross at the end of a typically aesthetically pleasing quick passing move. This was exactly the type of football that Gus Poyet had spent his time at the club working towards, and why Owner Tony Bloom had decided to bring in the former Barcelona man Oscar Garcia to replace him so he would continue that work.

Newport battled and created a couple of chances of their own, but Albion continued to have the better of the game and again had the ball in the net but it was again ruled out for offside. However, the game changed on the 67th minute when a 50/50 tackle between Albion’s right back Inigo Calderon and Newport Captain Byron Anthony resulted in a red card for the Albion man and a double leg break for Newport captain. It was an injury that took a while to treat on the pitch so you couldn’t say it was more serious than it looked, but that didn’t stop some unwelcome boos from a minority in the home crowd.

With that the game swung in Newport’s favour and constant swathes of Newport attacks followed. And with nine minutes to go Newport equalised through a Danny Crowe header.

And with the game into extra time Danny Crowe double his tally with a spectacular finish from outside the box to make it 2-1 to the visitors. And as Albion pushed forward in search of an equaliser Newport made it 3-1 as Connor Washington capitalised on some absent Albion defending to break clear, take it round the helpless Albion ‘keeper Casper Ankergren and put the ball into an empty net.

Ultimately an impressive win for the Football league newbies and despite the shock of the serious injury to their captain Byron Anthony, they impressively rallied to win the game with some gusto. As then Newport manager, the late Justin Edinburgh suggested after the game his side “won the game for Byron”.

However in his typically honourable style he showed no resentment towards Inigo Calderon also saying in his interview about the incident that: “I don’t think there was any malice in it – I know there wasn’t – but we’re really disappointed for Byron and it takes the gloss off tonight’s result really.”

A statement backed up by Calderon’s manager Oscar Garcia who said: “I know Calde. He went to the ball and it was a 50-50 challenge. It was unlucky for the Newport player. We have seen the video and we can see the action of Calde was legal.”

The Albion manager went into say “We had many, many chances to finish the game and win it before and they had three or four chances and they scored them all.” A cruel game for Albion to lose, but it’s a lesson that Albion have since learnt too many times this season too, having dropped 12 points from winning positions so far in the 2020/21 Premier League season. If you don’t finish off your opponent’s, you’ll pay for it.

Although Byron Anthony made a brief return to playing the following season, the injury would eventually result in his retirement. Following that, he was appointed as a youth coach at Newport and was eventually promoted to academy manager after a brief spell as the interim manager, but resigned in 2018.

For Albion, 2013/14 was another season that would result in a Playoff Semi-final defeat and a subsequent summer of managerial recruitment following Oscar Garcia’s resignation after that semi-final defeat, this time at the hands of Derby. Even more unfortunately was that in his place came Sami Hyypia, but that’s another story…

Subsequent links between the two club’s are mostly through Albion defender Ben White, who is set to return to Rodney Parade after a loan spell there in 2017/18. As the 2017/18 season drew near and being on the fringes of the Albion first team at the time, White was sent on loan to Newport for the season to get some game time.

Whilst there, he came up against England striker Harry Kane in Newport’s impressive run to the 4th round of the FA Cup that season, which also saw them beat his future loan club Leeds in the 3rd round. A 1-1 draw in the original tie against Spurs saw White mark Kane admirably as Newport pulled off a shock draw at home to earn a replay at Tottenham’s temporary home, Wembley Stadium.

Ben said of his time there: “The cup run was amazing, what we achieved and the manner in which we secured the game with Tottenham Hotspur was brilliant. Then we nearly beat them in the home tie, but to then play at Wembley Stadium was a dream come true. Facing Harry Kane was great for me and I feel like I more than held my own against him.”

White came to the attention of many clubs and many Albion fans during this loan spell at Newport. Whilst the club had finished a fairly underwhelming 11th place in the league, he had greatly impressed. Both to the masses in the cup run and the locals throughout the season, winning four of Newport’s player of the season awards, the Doc Heffernan Shield for Young Player of the Year; the Brian Tom’s President’s Cup Player’s Player of the Year Award; the Supporters’ Club Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year. County’s manager Mike Flynn described him as an “outstanding talent” and the best loan signing the club had ever made.

That was just one season of many that has featured Newport’s cup upset exploits and it’s lazy to typecast Newport as some archetypal long ball League Two club either. Anyone who has been paying attention lately will know they are having a great season and sit one point off top of the league. And having beaten Watford in the League Cup earlier this season they then gave Newcastle a fright in the next round only to lose on penalties.

That said, the Rodney Parade pitch is often in a terrible state at this time of year due to its use by multiple sports teams, and the recent postponements due to a waterlogged and frozen pitch respectively are a cause for concern. Whilst many will be aware of Newport’s cup exploits in recent years, those still involved at the Albion who remember that defeat in 2013 will want to make sure Albion don’t become serial victims at the hands of the South Walians.