Alex McCarthy: waiting in the wings

Rewind to just under eight weeks ago and Southampton had been mauled by Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs on Boxing Day, with Fraser Forster doing little by the way of prevention. The England International had been in dire form for a number of months at this stage, but with ‘no competition’ waiting in the wings, a number of Southampton fans were hesitant for change. Oh, how wrong they were.

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Since being handed his first genuine opportunity to represent the Saints (which for the record kicked off with a clean-sheet against Manchester United) Alex McCarthy has quite frankly been faultless in goal for Southampton F.C.

Behind any resilient defence is a man between the sticks who the backline can trust, and while our defensive fragilities are still far from being solved, McCarthy’s sheer presence has given us a stronger core defensively.

Earlier in the season we were let down all too often by Fraser Forster, who continually failed to step up when we needed him most. Whenever the pressure began to pile on to the Saints, Forster retreated mentally and appeared to already accept defeat in claiming a cross, rushing off his line or getting down low.

There’s no denying his capabilities, after all, he still holds the record for our longest run without conceding a goal in the top flight – 708 minutes. But he was clearly no longer in that same mental state and we simply couldn’t afford to gamble on his return to form any longer. It’s gutting to see Forster go backwards, but in truth, we haven’t looked back since.

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Perhaps one of the greatest compliments we can pay McCarthy is that at a time when Mauricio Pellegrino’s team-sheets are slandered and questioned on a weekly basis, McCarthy’s name has never once been mentioned.

Fans were initially shocked when he was handed his Premier League debut at Old Trafford, simply because Pellegrino had finally decided to show some courage in a decision, but since then, he’s arguably been the first name on the Argentinian’s team-sheet.

Last weekend’s FA Cup performance against West Bromwich Albion proved exactly why.

The clip shown above perfectly illustrates the impact that McCarthy’s had on our side already. The scoreline at the time of Krychowiak’s deflected effort was 1-0 to the Saints, and just one minute later we went up the other end to double our lead. These are the tight margins that truly count in football, and in all honesty, these are the moments where Forster failed to show his worth this season.

Were yet to gain truly detailed statistics of McCarthy’s impact on Pellegrino’s side, due to the 28-year-old only playing his part in ten fixtures over all competitions, but the early signs are certainly encouraging.

Southampton have recorded two losses and three clean sheets in our ten fixtures with McCarthy, which is in stark contrast to Forster’s final ten games, where he recorded zero clean sheets and faced defeat on six separate occasions.

And with thanks to research provided by Euan Dewar, we’re also able to see that McCarthy’s seriously helped with getting the ball to safety following a save too.

No other team in the Premier League has conceded more goals than Southampton directly following a save from their keeper this season. The point still stands when you extend the scope to ten seconds after the save too. But since McCarthy’s come into the side, we’ve only conceded one goal that meets the criteria, which for the record, was a stunning tipped-save onto the crossbar that was bundled in on the rebound against Watford.

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But sometimes in football, you don’t need stats to prove your point; sometimes the difference is just there for all to see, and that’s certainly been the case with McCarthy. Despite knowing full well that he was considered the second choice keeper at the club, McCarthy snatched the opportunity handed to him with both hands, took his place between the sticks and instantly oozed confidence.

With my hand on my heart, I can honestly say that from his early showings so far, I’m yet to see a single standout weakness to his game. He’s been assertive with every cross that he’s had to claim, been decisive with every shot fired his way, and rushed off his line at every available opportunity. Not to mention that his distributions been more than capable too – a quality that’s long overdue from a Southampton keeper, given that we pride ourselves on playing attractive football in all areas of the field.

At a time when it’s all too easy to hide away and not take responsibility for the position that we find ourselves in, McCarthy’s truly stepped up and decided that enough is enough. Long may it continue.

With judgment day for our top-flight status just around the corner, McCarthy serves as a fine example to our squad of what can happen if you believe in your ability and take your chances.

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