In defence of… Goalkeepers at their near post

It has long been a footballing cliché that goalkeepers should never get beaten at their near post.  I believe most goalkeepers would agree that they hate losing goals at the near post more than conceding in other ways but I think that the blame given to goalkeepers involving goals at the near post is in a lot of cases just plain wrong.

The idea of defending the near post comes, of course, from the concept of narrowing the angle of shots and it has always been a rule that the near post, particularly for acute angle shots, is the first responsibility for the goalkeeper.  This is understandable as with shots from an angle the near post is the larger part of the goal for the opponent to aim at, and a shot at the near post should mean fewer problems with balance for the striker.  This should therefore, in theory, be easier for them.

A goalkeeper protects this weak spot and forces the opposing players to take on trickier shots across goal.  A measure of how successful this has been is that most coaching manuals now suggest to strikers that the far post shot is the usual option to take for angled shots (this can also be attributed to the secondary opportunities offered by a palmed save).

There are limits however.  Goals are big targets to defend and goalkeepers’ reflexes are not infallible.

It is remarkable that if you search on a popular brand of search engine for goalkeeper+near post how many of the entries refer to Manuel Almunia letting in a soft shot from David N’Gog.  A popular Arsenal fan blog reported that “Almunia conceding a goal that however well struck, should not have beaten him at his near post”.  This is an indication of how little the average football fan knows about goalkeeping.  The view was echoed by The Sun who said “This is the sort of goal that keepers normally get the blame for”, which I think neatly outlines my point.

N’Gog having struck the ball early had the element of surprise over the goalkeeper, who was already having to adjust to his left to narrow the angle.  The ball was hit with serious pace and ripped into the top corner from around 8 yards out.  I cannot see how he was supposed to have saved this.  Even if a ‘keeper is concentrating on defending solely the near post there is still height to worry about and shuffling to the correct angle for where the ball has been moved to.  All of which has to be done in an instant, and in some cases is just impossible.

Maicon with an unbelievable shot against North Korea

Another example I would take is Maicon’s wonder goal at the World Cup against North Korea.  Given the ridiculous power, accuracy and sizzling swerve of the shot I think that Maicon should be congratulated for his effort and the poor bamboozled Myong-Guk not tainted with the blame for conceding at his near post.

This is not a defence of simple errors but sometimes you just have to accept as a goalkeeper that you will be faced with shots at the near post that are just unsaveable.  It would just be nice if others accepted this too!

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