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2018/19 Positional Preview: Goalkeepers

Who is vying for the number one jersey?

Reading v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Players available in this position

If Reading do poorly in 2018/19, it won’t be because of a lack of goalkeepers. Sam Walker’s surprise arrival from Colchester United means the Royals have up to six options available to them. Vito Mannone was last season’s number one, but he could be challenged by both Walker and Anssi Jaakkola. Further down the pecking order, youngsters George Legg, Lewis Ward and Luke Southwood are yet to make their first team debuts but may join Jokull Andresson in heading out on loan.

If the worst comes to the worst, John O’Shea has also been known to fill in as a goalkeeper.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United
You never know
Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images

How did they perform last season?

Erm... ok I guess? Vito Mannone was a solid if unspectacular replacement for Ali Al-Habsi, although the Omani’s loftily high standards made a repetition of his quality unlikely. Although he didn’t often put in the match-winning performances that we’d grown accustomed to from the two-time player of the season winner (Al-Habsi), he did occasionally come up with the proverbial goods. He put in a supreme, imposing performance at home to Nottingham Forest in a 3-1 win before late penalty saves against Leeds United (away) and QPR (home) which may have saved Reading’s Championship status.

Jaakkola on the other hand was meant to be a quiet understudy, and did a decent job of that before being exposed to the horrors of an extended run in Reading’s first-team. That bizarre throw of the dice by a desperate Jaap Stam backfired (although, to be fair to the Finn, we were awful anyway), giving Paul Clement a good reason not to trust him in goal next season.

In brighter news, George Legg mostly played at youth level before a brief loan spell at Barnet, but Lewis Ward and Luke Southwood had stellar seasons in non-league with Hungerford/Aldershot and Bath City respectively. Ward got the Shots to the brink of National League play-off glory, although they lost out in a shoot-out to Ebbsfleet, with Southwood taking home three player of the season awards at Twerton Park.

What needs improvement?

At first team level, the standard needs to go up if Reading are to push on into the top half of the table, although that’s perhaps being a little harsh on Mannone who wasn’t too bad for much of last season. Competition for his space in the team will help though, and that’s likely to come from the experienced 26 year-old Walker who, having played in the lower leagues for much of his career, now has a great chance to nail down Championship football.

That experience and competition could end up paying off for Ward, Southwood, Legg and Andresson. Although it’s likely that none will get first team football at Reading, they may very well get it elsewhere in loan spells in League One, League Two or non-league. Currently, none have played regular football above the fifth tier, so this season is a top opportunity for them to get to grips with men’s football.

What are my expectations ahead of the season?

With so many options available to Clement, it’s a little tricky to work out what he thinks of them all, but here goes:

  • Vito Mannone and Sam Walker will compete for the first-team spot and, although Mannone will start the season as number one, Walker will push him hard throughout the campaign, probably getting a decent amount of league football.
  • Anssi Jaakkola will be off sooner or later.
  • Lewis Ward will be third choice, playing for the under-23s and getting the odd sub appearance. That’s based on him being included in the tour to Austria and on the list of shirt numbers, unlike...
  • Luke Southwood and George Legg who will head out on loan to League One or Two. Legg hasn’t played senior football enough so needs to be tested in that properly, whilst Southwood was at sixth tier Bath so could use a greater challenge.
  • Jokull Andresson will do well at Hungerford and give us yet another young talented goalkeeper to consider over the next few seasons.

How are Reading looking in goal? Is there enough quality there for The Royals to push up the table and escape relegation?

Let us know.