Date: 17th November 2012 at 7:00pm
Written by:

THE role of second choice goalkeeper reminds me an awful lot of that of a supply teacher.

Drafted in to unfamiliar environments, often at very short notice, with dozens/thousands of faces eyeing you up, not quite sure what to expect. The majority of schoolchildren couldn’t care less if their new boss for the day is particularly competent or not and would actually rather appreciate a soft touch who they can take advantage of.

That is no doubt the mentality of players and managers too when they realise that they’re only up against the number two guy between the sticks.

Since Pepe Reina’s injury, Brad Jones has played seven consecutive games for Liverpool. Considering that last season, the Australian was the club’s third choice, (where on Earth is Doni? Still part of the squad according to the official website and no news of any transfer) he’s performed rather well. Everton most certainly tried to take advantage of the situation and quite rightly rained free kicks and corners on top of Jones, with one poor punch leading to Leon Osman’s goal that got the Toffees back into the game. A slightly poor decision away in Russia too allowed the big man Traore to score a little more easily than had he stayed on his line, but apart from that, Jones has performed admirably in his seven game stint.

He kept Liverpool in the game at Stamford Bridge, including a fine save from Mr Torres and made a world class stop from Samuel Eto’o in Moscow. The fact that Liverpool are unbeaten in the four league games in which he has played this season suggests that he is doing something, or many things right.

While he may not be in the same league as an on-form Pepe Reina, it’s fair to say that in the past couple of seasons, the Spaniard has not been in great form. This has been highlighted already this season with errors made against Hearts, Manchester City and Arsenal. The role of the second choice goalkeeper is quite an interesting one in my opinion. It makes no sense to me at all when I hear the popular argument of;

‘Reina’s poor form is down to the fact he’s got no real competition for his place in the team.’

What do they expect to happen? Which world class goalkeeper is going to sign as competition for Pepe Reina? The debacle surrounding Brad Friedel and Hugo Lloris at Tottenham says it all on that score. And even if that did happen and the new keeper eventually dislodged our number 25 then what would Reina do then? He’s not going to sit on the bench for very long so his bags would be packed in no time, leaving the original second choice back where he started.

Very rarely do you get an established goalkeeper moving elsewhere to play second fiddle, with the Chris Kirkland – Jerzy Dudek situation being one of those rare occasions. The second choice goalkeeper is usually a very young lad who has not yet broken into the team, a much older player usually in the twilight of his career, a player who wants a move to a bigger club or league or a perennial understudy, one who has been quite happy being second choice wherever he has been. Jones falls into the latter category. Even at Middlesbrough he was second choice the majority of the time, playing only 57 games in nine years, along with a handful of games during a host of loan spells.

Lucky charm Pegguy Arphexad was the same; the Frenchman had only played 21 games in three seasons at Leicester before impressing Gerard Houllier enough to bring him to Anfield as back up to Sander Westerveld. Rafa Benitez seemed to enjoy changing his second choice on an annual basis after Dudek’s departure. Diego Cavallieri and Charles Itandje, who were bought from abroad, will not be remembered fondly (the latter for numerous reasons) but how can they be judged on so few appearances? Even Brad Friedel, who played 25 league games in three years at the club, was deemed inferior to David James. How things could have turned out differently had the American settled a little quicker to life in the Premiership.

The point I am making is that it is ridiculous to expect Liverpool, or any club to have two world class goalkeepers at any one time. While the attitude from fans towards Jones has improved slightly over the past few weeks, it must be remembered that he is our second choice for a reason, but is coming into the team to do a vital job and must be supported to the hilt. Who knows, he may become our first choice in time, stranger things have happened. And the only way that is going to happen is through match practice. Hopefully he can continue his good form if continually chosen. If ushered back to the bench on Reina’s return, then at least we know that we have a reliable understudy when needed.

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