Blackburn Rovers have conceded in 28 consecutive competitive matches despite the best efforts of regular goalkeeper, Paul Robinson, and his understudy, Mark Bunn. While injuries to key personnel in the Rovers defence have contributed to this ill-fated run, are Rovers’ goalkeepers equally culpable?
After 20 league games, Blackburn Rovers and Norwich City hold the unenviable record of being the only sides yet to keep a clean sheet in any of the top four tiers of English football in 2011/12. Having kept a shutout in their penultimate game in the Championship last season, Norwich leave Blackburn in the ignominious position of being the side who have been waiting the longest for a clean sheet in English professional football.
That Rovers have not prevented a side from scoring since Bolton Wanderers visited Ewood Park in April 2011 is perturbing for a side with a reputation – at least in recent years – of having a miserly defence. Last season Blackburn kept clean sheets in eight matches, in 2009/10 they did so in 13 matches, while in 2008/09 accomplished the same feat 10 times. Rovers’ current run is their worst since the advent of the Premier League back in 1992.
Injuries to key figures across the back four have undoubtedly contributed to the increased number of goals conceded this term, with Steve Kean rarely able to select a settled defensive quartet. Scott Dann, Gaël Givet, Michel Salgado, Christopher Samba, Martin Olsson and Ryan Nelsen have all had spells on the sidelines, stifling defensive continuity and preventing a cohesive back line from being established. Nelsen’s absence has been felt particularly keenly having featured just once all season and Rovers will be hoping he makes a speedy return from New Zealand, where he has returned to see specialists with a view to finally overcoming a persistent knee injury.
To put the extent of Blackburn’s injury crisis into perspective, the four players who featured most regularly last season, Salgado, Samba, Nelsen and Givet started 95%, 87%, 74% and 76% of league games respectively. This season the quartet have managed just 45%, 80%, 5% and 65% in turn – all significantly down on last season’s appearances. However, as the statistics show, injuries are not the sole source of Rovers’ defensive woes.
Of all goalkeepers to have featured in at least 500 minutes of Premier League action in 2011/12, Paul Robinson has conceded goals at the fastest rate, as illustrated in the below table:
Bottom 5 goalkeepers: fewest minutes between goals conceded*
Although Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi has shipped the most goals, in terms of goals conceded per time spent on the pitch, Robinson has an inferior record, having conceded a goal every 40 minutes for Blackburn. This is not necessarily a reflection on Robinson’s performance this season as it may merely suggest that those in front of him are leaving him more exposed than his goalkeeping counterparts.
Top 5 goalkeepers: fewest minutes between saves made*
As can be seen, despite conceding a goal every 50 minutes, Wayne Hennessey also makes a save every 17 minutes. That is an exceptional return of over five saves per game, far and away the best record in the league, with David de Gea in second place averaging exactly four saves per game. However, while it is to be expected that the league’s bottom five sides have produced the five goalkeepers to have conceded the most goals per game, it is perhaps a little surprising that just one of those five are in the top five for saves made given that it would follow that they are the sides to face the most shots on goal.
Brad Friedel’s presence in the top five will not raise many eyebrows among Blackburn followers, despite turning 40 last year. Friedel rarely put a foot wrong in eight seasons as Blackburn’s number one and has been a paragon of consistency in the Premier League, having now completed 285 consecutive top flight games. Yet, to have the goalkeepers of second placed Manchester United and third placed Tottenham Hotspur called into action so regularly that is a little unusual.
Returning to the goalkeepers who have conceded at the fastest rate this term, the majority of the five are among the league’s most frequent shot stoppers, with Hennessey making the most saves in the division, while Jääskeläinen and Al Habsi are eighth and ninth respectively. Paddy Kenny has only made enough saves per game to be 16th in the league, but Paul Robinson languishes in 21st spot, with just Wojciech Szcezny, Petr Cech and Tim Howard beneath him. When considering that between them Szcezny, Cech and Howard have kept 15 clean sheets while Robinson has yet to keep any, the Blackburn goalkeeper is not enjoying the best of seasons.
Things don’t look any brighter for the former England number one when analysing the number of saves made per goal conceded:
Top 5 goalkeepers: saves per goal conceded*
Manchester United fans would be interested to see that both Anders Lindegaard and David de Gea occupy spots inside the top five despite many United supporters still pining for the now retired Edwin van der Sar. Lindegaard’s clean sheet record was finally blemished by a rampant Newcastle United side last week but he still possesses the best statistics in the league for saves per shots faced, averaging 5.33 saves between each goal conceded. Again Friedel’s statistics are exemplary, adding weight to the argument that he could be the key to Tottenham’s sustained title challenge this season.
In contrast, Paul Robinson’s saves per goal conceded ratio appears to suggest that the goalkeeper’s performances may be contributing to Blackburn’s slide to the foot of the Premier League table. Averaging just 1.05 saves per goal conceded, Robinson has the worst record in the Premier League by a considerable distance. Paddy Kenny is Robinson’s nearest challenger for the unwanted spot of the league’s most porous goalkeeper with a ratio of 1.48 saves per goal conceded.
To put Robinson’s record into context almost 50% of shots that he has to deal with find the back of the net. With this in mind it is little wonder that Rovers have failed to keep a clean sheet in 28 matches, as, on current form at least, they would have to limit the opposition to just a single shot on target to stand a chance of preventing the opposition from scoring.
Curiously, the goalkeepers with the third and fourth poorest saves per goals conceded ratios are Chelsea’s Petr Cech (1.65) and Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny (1.68), both renowned shot stoppers playing for sides challenging at the other end of the table.
Since Robinson picked up a calf injury in December, Mark Bunn has been deputising in the Rovers goal. Bunn’s presence in the side has coincided with a slight upturn in results as Blackburn claimed four points from three games over the Christmas and New Year period. Bunn’s goalkeeping statistics to date indicate that he is outperforming Rovers’ regular stopper, yet, with only three games played, drawing a statistical comparison at this stage may not yield meaningful results.
However, credence is given to a comparison by virtue of the level of the opposition faced by Rovers over this period, where trips to Anfield and Old Trafford to face Liverpool and Manchester United were followed by the visit of Stoke City to Ewood Park. That the corresponding fixtures last season resulted in Rovers picking up no points and conceding 11 goals in the process paints a clear picture of the challenge that faced Bunn and the rest of the squad in the three games and suggests that, if anything, his current statistics may be below the level to be expected when he starts to feature regularly against more mediocre opposition.
Robinson 2010/11 & 2011/12 and Bunn 2011/12 goalkeeping statistical comparison
As the above table illustrates, Robinson is underperforming in all aspects of his game this season when compared to 2010/11. He is parrying a higher percentage of saves that he does make, potentially allowing opposition forwards further opportunities to strike, while he is conceding an alarming number of goals from shots coming from outside the penalty area. The 12 goals Robinson has conceded from shots fired from outside the area is already twice the number conceded last term and dwarfs the two conceded by United’s De Gea, who was much maligned upon his arrival in England for being susceptible to long-range efforts.
Although Bunn has made just three appearances to date in 2011/12, the early indication is that his performances merit his inclusion in the side at the expense of Robinson. Taking Bunn’s averages across the three matches he has played, he has conceded fewer goals per game yet has made more saves per game than Robinson; a statistical double to illustrate that he would be a worthy recipient of the goalkeeping jersey on a more regular basis.
Despite Robinson’s statistics so far this season, it is not reasonable to deduce that he has instantly become a poor goalkeeper. He was awarded the Rovers player of the season award last term and supporters will be hoping that he can recapture the form displayed throughout 2010/11 to give Blackburn a chance of retaining their Premier League status this time around.