In my distant youth I was a goalkeeper. Not a good goalkeeper, I hasten to add, but a goalkeeper nonetheless.
The biggest game I ever played in was also the most traumatic, and I need to tell you about it, partly as therapy but also because the game at Stockport brought back memories of it.
It was a Welsh Youth Cup tie at The Racecourse, and I got myself too keyed up for it. I started to get concerned about the conditions before the match, as it was a little windy, a low sun was going to be in my eyes, and the pitch was rock-hard. I should have just shrugged it off, but didn’t. I was about to learn that lesson the hard way.
In the first half the ball came swirling down from a mishit cross, I couldn’t reach it, and it ricocheted back off the bar for a striker to tap in the rebound. When I look back at it now, I realise it wasn’t really my fault. When that sort of thing happens it looks bad for the keeper, but frankly it isn’t their fault; the only way they’d be able to get to the ball would be if they were out of position in the first place.
Still, I blamed myself, felt bad and didn’t put it behind me. I started to make silly decisions, at first because I was trying too hard to make up for my mistake. Later in the first half I got away with a wild charge out of my area, hacking the ball straight to an opponent whose forty-yard lob just cleared my crossbar.
Having tried too hard to make amends for my error and nearly cost us another goal, I now went too far the other way and became too timid, my confidence shot. This is what caused the real catastrophe, because believe me, what I’ve described so far is just the hors d’oeuvre!
In the second half one of my centre backs, under pressure thirty yards out, hooked the ball to me over his shoulder. I failed to attack the ball, nervously letting it bounce in front of me, but in those days you could you could pick up backpasses, so it shouldn’t have been a problem. However, the ball took a bit of an exaggerated bounce off the hard pitch and came at me higher than I expected. In a panic I stuck my hands up over my head, got them both comfortably around the ball….but still let it through for the most embarrassing goal I ever conceded!
My abiding memory afterwards was utter shame (and a small kid in the Eric Roberts Stand shouting “You’re s*** keeper!” at me!) If I’d put the first goal behind me and got on with it, none of the rest would have happened.
In terms of my experience’s relevance to what happened at Stockport, I suspect you’re miles ahead of me. When it comes to Joslain Mayebi, I have to hold my hands up, something I’ve accused him of not doing in the past.
I’m not going to be a hypocrite: I’ve always been an admirer of Chris Maxwell, and consider him to be the best keeper in the Conference alongside Mark Tyler. I had grave reservations about Joslain Mayebi when he came into the team, but he has improved and certainly has admirable attributes, particularly his innate agility. Despite that, I think it’s important that we allow Mayebi to remain in the team and put his error behind him. All keepers make mistakes, and the responsibility for the defeat on Saturday lies with a terribly poor first half performance, not an individual.
Having said that, while I’m not too worried about the fact that a goalkeeper made a mistake, I am a little concerned by Mayebi’s reaction in these situations. This is the second incident of this nature he’s experienced this season, and his response has bothered me a little.
At Cambridge, when his late fumble cost us victory, he did what I’d done all those years ago; he tried too hard to rectify his mistake, attacking everything that came into the box in the closing couple of minutes, even when he shouldn’t have done. The outcome? United realised and deliberately slung long balls into the area at every opportunity, inviting him to make errors. He didn’t take them all, and our F.A. Cup run was nearly over before it began.
Likewise, at Stockport he got himself booked protesting that he’d been fouled and then seemed an edgy figure for the rest of the half. When, a good five to ten minutes after the goal, he took advantage of a stoppage to run half the length of the pitch to berate the linesman, he ought to have received a second yellow card; a referee should protect his linesmen, and a player running half the pitch to shout at them over a long-gone incident is considerably more than a heat of the moment reaction!
Furthermore, his agitation could hardly have filled his defence with confidence; already looking vulnerable in the massive absence of Mark Creighton, they hardly needed to be wondering what their keeper was going to do next.
Mayebi was calmer in the second half, and with the last kick of the match he made a superb one-on-one save. It certainly wasn’t the first time this season that he’s made a top notch stop, and his bravery in coming for high balls is to be admired.
There is an alternative spin you could put on these incidents, to be fair. In some ways the closing minutes against Cambridge were not his nadir; they were his zenith. I often hear the lazy comment that a player doesn’t care being bandied about; well here, even as he made a string of errors of judgement, was the embodiment of a player who cared massively. Mayebi had made a horrible, costly error, and he knew it. He looked to make amends by attacking everything, and was in danger of committing another mistake. But his thinking was admirable, if rash. At least he was standing up to be counted, showing the fact that conceding that goal hurt him as much as it hurt us. Once I’d calmed down I started admiring him for it.
For those reasons, and the devastating effect that dropping him would have on a keeper given his first chance by the club, irrespective of the dubious circumstances in which that opportunity arose, it’s a no-brainer that he keeps his place in the side. He has much to offer, but a reassuring word to remind him that his place is secure, and he doesn’t need to react so violently to a mistake, whether he’s offering a distraction or an excuse, would be wise.
I don’t want to be a hypocrite and I don’t think my judgement was a million miles off. I still consider Chris Maxwell to be a rare talent, but I accept that Joslain Mayebi has made great strides since being given a chance, and that leaving him out now would hardly be fair on him.