Norwich City fans back John Ruddy in goalkeeper debate
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City fans want John Ruddy to be recalled to the starting line-up this weekend – but does Alex Neil?
Our survey asked the simple question: Who do you want in goal against West Ham? And 1,500 of you voted overwhelmingly in favour of the former England keeper making a return after a 11-game absence from Premier League duty.
Ruddy had been a virtual constant for the Canaries, but found himself on the bench after a dip in form.
Rudd was handed the gloves, but in recent games City have shipped goals at an alarming rate of knots, and a high-profile misjudgment a week ago at Aston Villa put the 25-year-old in the firing line.
Alex Neil hasn't been one to shy away from a tinker now and again – although he might baulk at the term – but some changes are more exposed than others.
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The role of goalkeeper has always been one that is, supposedly, more scrutinised than any other, given that a mistake is replayed time and time again. When a keeper makes a howler it ends up on a Christmas video – defenders need to plant home a spectacular own goal before they can begin to think of TV royalties.
A drop in form led to Neil dropping John Ruddy after the home draw with Arsenal on November 29 and replacing him with Declan Rudd.
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'I just thought it was time to make a change and that is what I did,' said Neil at the time.
'If you perform well then you deserve to stay in the team. If you don't then I need to make a decision.'
Is now the time for the manager to apply that to Rudd? His misjudgment against Aston Villa for their second goal on Saturday was avoidable. It led to a humiliating defeat, to City occupying a place in the relegation zone, and to questions being asked of the first team squad's only genuine homegrown player.
Perhaps there is more than just that mistake to warrant a change.
The first question is, did the change of keeper actually help?
Rudd has kept two clean sheets in his 11 appearances since taking over, but has seen the ball go into the back of his net 23 times – 16 in the last five games. His defence is clearly culpable too, but a defence works better when it has complete faith in the number one.
Ruddy is a highly experienced goalkeeper, but when he was dropped, his replacement was a player who had previously started just six games in the Premier League. Would a defender have looked around and thought, 'we've dropped Ruddy, and replaced him with a rookie?'. No disrespect intended, but when they needed a safe pair of match-day hands, they had a pair that was virtually unknown at this level, outside of Carrow Road.
Rudd's recent tenure started well enough – a loss at Watford was followed by a draw against Everton, a win at Old Trafford, a defeat at Spurs and consecutive wins, over Villa and Southampton. Since then it has been a rough ride – the defence has been shot to bits at times and while that is perhaps their own fault, not Rudd's, it may be they are missing a comfort blanket of sorts, someone who has been around the block, standing behind them, barking out instructions.
Which leads to another question: was a top goalkeeper on the manager's wish-list in the January transfer window, or even last summer's? Many other Premier League clubs have two, if not three, experienced goalkeepers. Not all are available to purchase, of course, so we can't assume that a click of the fingers solves the problem. But the Premier League is an unforgiving place where mistakes and lack of form are laid bare. If you believe the presence of a solid spine is necessary, then the goalkeeping stocks have to be top-notch.
Joe Hart was dropped by Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini last season, but the England keeper responded and re-established himself as one of the country's top keepers. It was a kick-up-the-backside decision that worked.
Has the trick worked with Ruddy? If he comes back, does he do so having shed any insecurities he might have had? Does he come back refreshed, happy and champing at the bit to keep City in the top flight?
Indeed, was the decision to that purpose, or did Neil just fancy Rudd more than he did Ruddy?
And then there is the knock-on effect: if he does revert to Ruddy, what of Rudd? How will he feel? Will he feel he is to blame, or will he feel that his defenders have let him down? Perhaps he will feel the manager's constant changes in the back four have done him few favours.
Whatever the residual issues, Neil has a huge decision to make.