Learning from Mark Paston

Of all the players who are taking the field in this World Cup I’m most pleased to see the Kiwi goalkeeper Mark Paston.

Paston – who saved the penalty that sent New Zealand to the World Cup – is a former City player and I saw most of the thirteen games he played before injury saw him released by the club. I thought he looked like a good goalkeeper but at the time the Bantams had a tendency to dump any custodian who made an error, conceded more than two or frankly who was no longer flavour of the month.

Watching Paston along with a number of other good keepers come in and then go out again quickly never getting a chance to settle or build up a relationship with defenders formed my opinion on how a manager should treat keepers which is to say the opposite of how Paston was treated at Valley Parade.

Pick a keeper, give him games, back him through mistakes. At the World Cup I would pick Robert Green in the second game were I Fabio Capello because I had played him in the first.

Likewise last season when Stuart McCall favoured Simon Eastwood despite the loan keeper’s mistakes I was – in a way – glad to see it. Not that I thought Eastwood was a good keeper – I did not – but one of the traits I like in a manager is picking a number one and staying with him.

Rotating goalkeepers, competition for the jersey, giving the other guy a go. They are common comments but – personally – I would dismiss them all.

To find a if a goalkeeper is good then it is no good watching him save shots for a dozen minutes but rather keep goal for a dozen games or more. To see how his positional judgement is, see how he builds up relationships with his defenders, see how much confidence he inspires in his backline.

Peter Taylor – as is often the case – would seem to understand this too. He watched Matt Glennon for a good while before deciding with a half dozen games to go that he wanted to see Jon McLaughlin and then gave the shirt to the younger man and superglued it to his back until the end of the season and longer.

So as Paston dips low to make a confident save from VladimĂ­r Weiss as New Zealand start their first World Cup since 1982 I’m happy to catch up with a player I wish I’d seen more of and who obviously found someone who would put the confidence into him and when we see Oxford’s stopper Simon Eastwood it is worth reflecting how much faith the manager put into him, and perhaps how little it was rewarded.

Eastwood got what the likes of Paston, Boaz Myhill and the numerous other keepers that were thrown in and whipped out of the net in those days would have dreamed off – a chance to show what he can do for a half season – and had the Kiwi keeper had that chance then maybe he would have been the success he promised to be.

One hopes that McLauglin gets a similar chance and takes it with no rotating, no chopping and changing and certainly no chance to dumping the custodian because he might make a mistake. Stuart McCall’s faith in his his goalkeeper was right, but he backed the wrong horse in Eastwood and if we learn the lessons of Mark Paston we will appreciate managers like Taylor and perhaps Capello who do select a clear number one and stick with him.

What makes a good loan deal?

The penalty saves Simon Eastwood made against Notts County did a lot for the confidence that City fans had in the young keeper who arrived on loan from Huddersfield Town at the start of the season but seemed to do very little for the confidence of the custodian himself.

Saturday saw another Eastwood performance where he made some impressive saves but enough errors to cost goals. This has been the pattern for the keeper all year with the ten minute spell after half time against Crewe being illustrative of the player. One stunning arm out save from a Steven Schumacher header, one picking the ball out of the net when a long range shot from the same player bounced through him.

Eastwood arrived at City having played a same for Town and a dozen on loan in the non-league and perhaps Stuart McCall was hoping that after three months or so wearing the gloves week in/week out that Luton born keeper would have started to show improvement that comes with being blooded.

The theory is a good one because if Eastwood could cut out the brain-freeze errors that see him wandering around the penalty area like a loose defender then he would be a decent keeper who made brilliant saves. The problem is that such progression has not been seen in Eastwood and he remains now, as he was when he arrived, a player who is good at football rather than a good footballer.

This is not at all unique. Back on the 9th of May 1999 when City were promoted at Wolves the world ball juggling champion entertained City fans with his tricks on the side of the field while the 22 players were not as good with the ball but better footballers got on with deciding who would be in the Premiership next season.

Eastwood – as previous Bradford City keeper William Foulke – could make a living at a goalkeeping stall in Blackpool showing off his shot stopping but he needs to get better at playing the game of football if he is going to make a living in the game.

A poor loan spell at City did not do Boaz Myhill – the Hull City ball-picker-out-of-netter – played twice for City letting in five to Sheffield United one afternoon but after joining the Tigers in the bottom division he has played for them all the way into the top flight and has played over 240 games for them. One assumes that after running under a ball when the Blades bore down on goal Myhill took stock and learnt – certainly his cameo’s on Match of the Day are not litters of errors which suggests he is a better keeper than he was – and so in that way his time at the Bantams was a massive success. At least is was for Boaz Myhill.

Myhill’s Hull team mate Nathan Doyle’s loan time at the Bantams seemed to be great success for City – he was player of the season despite only being at the club until Dean Windass sprung him after Christmas – but for Doyle it seemed to secure him nothing more than a move from one team’s reserves to another from which he is loaned out, in Yorkshire.

Two years on and Doyle seems to be pretty much where he was when he left the Bantams – although perhaps he is on more money than he was at his first club – but perhaps that is a slight return and not really what we should be looking for when we ask what is a good loan deal if only because even with his contribution the Bantams still were relegated.

Other players like Andy Taylor – the Middlesbrough left back who impressed many during his four months with the Bantams – and last season’s midfield pair of Dean Furman and Nicky Law are perhaps a better example for a typical loan deal. These players come to the Bantams as rough young players who can kick a ball well and after a few months or a season of regular play establish themselves as footballers who understand the rigours of the first team game.

The Bantams got something from the players but as with Doyle it is rarely enough to create anything like a promotion campaign from and the work of Michael Flynn, James Hanson and Gareth Evans show the debilitating way that the loan player – with his route out of the club – effect the level of effort put in. The aim for Furman and Law was – perhaps understandably – contracts for next season not promotion this and while there was a convenient eclipse of these aims when backs were to the wall they were not the men to be counted on.

(This is a standing debate between City fans – the end of season collapse and the abilities/attitude of Dean Furman and Nicky Law – and one I suspect will not be resolved here. Suffice to say it while cannot be true that the team lacked drive to maintain a promotion push but the heart of the team excelled there were many causal events in place.)

Should Oldham or Rotherham be faced with similar problems would this be the case? The Myhill scenario suggestions not. Last season’s players were added to with a good half dozen other players of a transient nature which caused its own problems. Taylor’s loan at City saw him put in displays which got him recognised and awarded a first team place at a (relegated) Boro but his level of effort was similarly capped as one might say Furman and Lee’s were.

These were good deals for the players and for the Bantams individually although collectively represented something of a weakness. The players were markedly better when they left the club than they were on arrival – more confident, more drilled into a playing style – and moved onto higher divisions or more money and so perhaps they can be good loan deals.

There remains though the quantity of loans and the effect on the team’s morale – not repeated in Stuart’s battlers of this season – which perhaps offers us the answer that a good loan deal is a scarce one in which the player – especially a young player – is allowed to grow as a team footballer without being relied on.

Eastwood though the exception to that rule – goalkeepers being different and all – because while he is alone in being on loan he is relied on as the keeper to settle the defence – something he has failed to do so far.

So City are stuck in the invidious position of waiting for Eastwood to start to show signs of the progress which all young players make while out on loan while understanding that that lack of progress is costing goals. In ten years time Eastwood might look back on the last few months as the making of his career where he learnt the hard way the way to be a professional footballer – certainly he has the raw ability of a quality goalkeeper – but the longer City wait for the lessons to sink in the longer we will go on conceding unnecessary goals.

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