I recently wrote a short article on how this season should be treated as a gap year for Aston Villa, a time for stability and rebuilding to make sure we can mount a full on challenge for promotion next season. However, I think regardless of how we use the remainder of this season, there is one area which can’t be addressed til the end of the season and that is our defence, specifically the goal keeping area.
Probably not since the days of Brad Friedel have I felt completely happy in saying Villa have a comfortable first choice keeper. With the exodus of players in the summer which included then our first choice keeper in Brad Guzan, it was clear that a new keeper would soon follow. This came in the signing of Pierluigi Gollini. There was no hiding from the fact that Gollini’s errors had cost Villa points early on in the season and potentially added to Roberto Di Matteo being sacked but I think it’s certainly easier to pick up on a goal keeping error than that of a defender’s mistake and we have certainly had a few of those too.
Despite the mistakes Gollini made, I think he looked much stronger and more comfortable once Bruce had come in. In fact I believe Villa only lost twice in ten league games that Gollini played under Bruce. Leeds United, where we conceded late and Norwich, where, if memory serves, the whole team were abysmal.
Bruce has since signed (on loan) to the end of the season, Manchester United youngster Sam Johnstone. In contrast, Gollinin has gone out on a 18 month loan deal to Italian side Atalanta. At the time of Gollinin’s exit Bruce said:
“It was a little bit too early at this stage of his career to come to Villa. He still needs to learn his trade. It’s a good thing he’s out there playing again. Ideally it would have been in this country, but we still own him and we’ll keep monitoring his progress.”
Now, I appreciate Bruce’s statement but when you are bringing in someone who is only 2 years older and is a player who has not reached their own potential, it is not a comment I can agree with. Johnstone has played 8 times so far for Villa (W0, D1, L7) and whilst Johnstone is by no means solely responsible for the defeats, it can by no means be said that he is any less responsible than Gollini was for points Villa dropped earlier on in the season.
#avfc goalkeepers average claim success this season:
• Gollini – 89%
• Bunn – 83%
• Johnstone – 67%
— thevillazone (@thevillazone) February 17, 2017
I am not sure if Johnstone was seen as a short term fix for the long term problem, nevertheless, he is not a keeper that will bring stability to the club and at this stage, this is what we need more than ever. If it’s an option, I would happily recall back Gollini or dare I say it, even start Mark Bunn.
Regardless of how Johnstone performs for the rest of the season, Villa will be back to the drawing board in the summer looking for a new keeper.