David Preece: If Sunderland had a reliable goalkeeper relegation would only have been a threat and not a reality
Have you ever known anything like it? It's a question I've been asked many, many times this season and one I'm at a loss to answer.
The question refers to Sunderland’s goalkeeping situation.
It’s a farce that has had a varied cast and seems to have been as long running as The Mousetrap in the West End.
That initial question is usually backed up with the statement of: Three keepers all making so many errors.
And that’s where the head scratching starts.
Look, we’ve all had bad spells in our careers. Times when you can’t do right for doing wrong. When every bad decision rolls into another and you put you game under a microscope to find what’s going wrong.
Apart from the latter part of my career, when I lost my place that I’d previously won, it was due to injury. That’s not to say I wasn’t lucky not to be dropped due to some dips in form. Although few may admit it, being removed from the firing line can be a blessed relief.
You alway hold on to the belief that you can turn things around, but a chance to regroup and look at things from another perspective without the added pressures that come from being in the spotlight can be what’s best for you at that moment.
It doesn’t feel like it at the time, but there are plenty of examples of players coming back stronger by being rested before the damage is irreparable. You don’t realise it’s the best thing for you and the team at that time.
The keeper who has been sat on the bench, chomping at the bit, waiting for his chance to come is thrust in and everyone in the squad is pleased for them.
There’s a certain amount of sympathy afforded to the second-choice keeper because players see how hard they work with no reward at the end of the week, so players rally round him and genuinely wish them well when now their chance has come.
Replacing a goalkeeper in a side can provide a bounce, a bit like when you bring in a new manager. Defences can be affected by changes but sometimes that can be for the better. Experienced players who take responsibility afford the new face that little bit more protection so they can ease their way into the side.
You might say that a defender’s job is to protect their keeper to the best of their ability at all times but there are ways to ensure a smoother ride for them by asking themselves if they need to put their keeper under pressure with a tight back pass when they can clear the ball themselves.
Or take no chances by taking control of aerial situations rather than expecting the keeper to come and deal with it.
Sadly, neither of those situations happened at Sunderland
The solution to the early-season jitters was to bring in a keeper who hadn’t played since November 26, 2016, who then proceeded to play exactly like he hadn’t too.
The anxiety inside our own box stayed and the errors continued in their costliness.
When looking for reasons, why we find ourselves where we currently reside - you’d have to have more than two hands to point the finger of blame in every direction deserved, but there’s no getting away from the fact that if Simon Grayson or Chris Coleman had a goalkeeper they could have relied upon, relegation would have only been a threat and not a reality.
That looks a little harsh in black and white but from a goalkeeping perspective it’s definitely a contributing factor.
The side as a whole hasn’t been good enough – or at least hasn’t functioned well enough, in any department – but this has certainly been a missed opportunity for somebody to be a hero.