In defence of Marco Silvestri and first choice goalkeepers

In today’s vitriolic footballing world, mistakes are punished quicker than ever before. It’s easy enough to analyse what went wrong, with the internet providing easy access to replay after replay of every incident that changed the course of any football match, and even those moments that didn’t.

One thing I’ve noticed over the last few years, since the birth of Twitter as a zone in which people can express their footballing opinions, is the extent to which defenders and goalkeepers find themselves as the target of criticism when a result doesn’t go the way of a given side.

Bristol City score their equaliser in the last minute of the game, with Silvestri arguably at fault

I reckon that’s because a striker or attacking player making a mistake doesn’t immediately impact as noticeably. How many easy opportunities can a forward spurn as long as he scores a single goal that wins the game? By that logic, a goalkeeper should be given as much credit for his important saves as he has taken away for an error.

Last night, Leeds went from 2–0 up in the 89th minute to draw against Bristol City. Marco Silvestri was arguably at fault for both goals, arguably at fault for the draw, and I wouldn’t particularly disagree with the notion that he was at fault.

However, some of the thought processes that have gone on since feel somewhat backwards, and I have to inherently disagree with the idea that Silvestri should be dropped for the next game against Sheffield Wednesday in favour of Ross Turnbull, Leeds’s second choice goalkeeper.

First and foremost, all we’ve seen of Turnbull competitively is the Doncaster game in the League Cup, in which he had very little to do over the 90 minutes except face a penalty. That penalty was a particularly poor one on the part of the taker. Turnbull guessed the right direction, but allowed the ball to slip under him. It was a solitary goal that he really should have saved. It’s convenient and easy to forget the mistake he’s made — call it grass is greener syndrome.

At the same time, it’s very easy to forget what Silvestri actually did for the first 89 minutes last night. He conceded two goals, yes, both of which he was at fault for, but over the course of the game he made eight saves. He made another mistake that should have been punished, but it was an off night. Very few players are in-form every game. Compare that to Ben Hamer, the Bristol City goalkeeper, who made one stop all game and conceded two. He also gave away a penalty and should have been sent off in the process.

Ben Hamer felling Mirco Antenucci, who scored the resultant penalty

The notion that Turnbull would immediately do better than Silvestri simply doesn’t hold up, and the reality is that as Leeds fans, people need to take a look at the side. Silvestri is not a top goalkeeper, but it’s easy to forget he’s not a top goalkeeper in not a top football team. He isn’t worth writing off yet either — much like the rest of the team, he’s young for his position at only 24-years-old, and is still developing.

As long as he’s not becoming the difference between safety and relegation, he should be given the time to develop, as is going to be afforded to other young players across the pitch. Yes, if Leeds want to guarantee an exit from the division this year, an upgrade on Silvestri is probably required, but only in the same way that a guaranteed 30-goal a season striker would be, or a set of brilliant wingers. That would require far more money being invested than has been, probably more than is reasonable to expect from a club in our position. It’s hard to blame Marco Silvestri for not being Thibaut Courtois, as far as I’m concerned.

I find it weird to be defending Silvestri, given my feelings towards him after the Charlton game last year, when he was part of an alleged group who refused to play, but at the same time, I’ve seen it before. Paddy Kenny was the target of significant criticism over perceived slights, was dropped and Jack Butland brought in, and we crumbled at the back. Kenny was also unused under Neil Warnock in the cups — people called for Jamie Ashdown to be played instead in the league, forgetting his horrific error against Chelsea that gave them a route back into the game. Kenny wasn’t even particularly bad at any point, regularly winning us games, he was just there every week, and therefore there to concede the goals.

Call this a defence, therefore, not of Silvestri in particular, but of first choice goalkeepers at Leeds generally. Of course they make mistakes — if they didn’t, they’d be playing at the top end of the Premier League, not at a mid-table Championship side. They make more mistakes than the backup not because they are worse, but because they play every week. It’s too easy to forget the points that a goalkeeper wins, and far too easy to remember the points they cost you. That shouldn’t be the case.