Thursday 8 September 2011

Keeper conundrum

So, the worst-kept secret is out, and Jack Butland has signed for Cheltenham Town as our (to start with) back-up goalkeeper.
Now the question will be how long will it stay this way as Butland coming to Cheltenham is a real coup for the club, make no mistake.
The boy from Clevedon has come up through the England ranks, playing at all the age groups until making his under-21 debut against Azerbaijan last week.
At his club, he has had the chance to learn from Maik Taylor, Joe Hart and Ben Foster, all internationals themselves.  If he progresses as he should, this boy could be the real deal.
No less than the doyen of sports writers, the Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter, tweeted me today to describe our netting of Butland as 'a great signing'.
Scott Brown will never have been under as much pressure for his place as he is now - that 107-match run of games may not last much longer if his standards drop.
There was a lot of gnashing of teeth when Daniel Lloyd-Weston was let go last summer without being given a game.
But let's face it, if Brown was not going to be dropped in favour of him after an 8-1 defeat at Crewe, then DLW was never going to get a look-in, simply because Mark Yates did not think he was good enough.
It was thought that he would have played at Stockport on the last day of last season, but I guess Yates had decided he was going to let him go, and did not think it worthy to give DLW a 'token' match.
There was also some criticism as we went into pre-season without a proper back-up, with Ryan Robinson, Mike Green and youth teamer Brad Poole being given games in the friendlies.
But, if we believe the hype, then Butland has been worth waiting for.
Personally, I feel that to put Butland into the side straight away would be very harsh and unfair on Brown - and would also throw Butland in at the deep end.
Brown has made mistakes, yes, but the criticisms levelled at him have, I feel, been over the top at times.
I would agree that at times he has failed to dominate his area as he should, and has at times been guilty of being slow off his line. However, his shot-stopping and reflexes are excellent.
He has known for some time that competition was coming, and I think he has made a decent start to this season.
I can only level one goal we have conceded directly at him as a mistake - the equaliser against MK Dons in the Carling Cup, when he spilled Angelo Balanta's shot straight to Sam Baldock.
Other goals have, in my opinion, been down to other factors - yes, he might have been slightly culpable but was not the sole reason for us conceding the goal.
He has made some great saves, with the one from Billy Bodin in the JPT win over Torquay being the best one, and at the moment I do not think it would be justified, on form, for him to be dropped straight away.
The conundrum Mark Yates has is that he has signed probably one of the top three up-and-coming young English goalkeepers - let's face it, this guy is in the England under-21 squad at 18 years old.
Chris Hughton at Birmingham will expect him to come here and get games under his belt, not just to train and sit on the bench. He could do that at St Andrew's.
But Yates also has to keep Brown happy, and I am sure Scott will be banging down the manager's door if Butland is given the gloves against Macclesfield on Saturday.
It is fascinating that our back four has probably looked more solid than it has in the past two seasons in most of the games this term, and we have shown more resilience with the back five of Brown, Lowe, Bennett, Elliott and Andrew.
But now the arrival of Butland will mean Brown will come under even greater scrutiny and represents the biggest challenge to him since he displaced Shane Higgs in the side.
Any mistake, even the smallest error, will be jumped on by his critics, who will then be calling for Butland to come in to the side - I know that I will be watching him closer then ever now.
It will be down to Scott's mental strength to see how he copes with the added competition, and will be interesting to see how Yates deals with the conundrum he has set for himself.
Butland clearly has promise and talent, and it is clear that Hughton has sent him here to widen his experience, and the Blues manager would hope that would include Football League exposure.
If he hasn't forced his way into the side before then, I would assume Butland would play against Wycombe in the JPT - that would be the ideal chance to give him an opportunity.
But that game falls just before the initial month's loan is over, and the two clubs would have to agree any extension beyond then to a maximum of 93 days, which takes us to December 10.
The other dilemma for Yates is the bench. So far, without a second keeper, he has had five outfield players there.
Now, does he put Butland on there, immediately reducing his outfield options?
Harry Hooman, Sido Jombati, Bags Graham, Brian Smikle, David Bird and Luke Summerfield have been the six players from whom the five have been permed so far.
Summerfield is likely to start on Saturday with Marlon Pack banned, and I suspect we will see Hooman, Jombati, Smikle and Bird on the bench, with Graham and Butland the options for seat number five.
But whatever happens, it is the final piece in the jigsaw.
In the summer, we were promised a squad with more quality and more competition, and on the evidence so far, Yates has delivered.

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