A goalkeeping crisis is lurking for Liverpool as a second consecutive reserve match ended with the Reds using a different keeper to the one they started with.
Last week Jerzy Dudek was sent off against Everton to be replaced by David Martin. This week David Martin started, but had to leave the pitch early after suffering a hip injury and some concussion. Last year’s FA Youth Cup winning goalkeeper David Roberts had to come on in his place on the hour mark.
Jerzy’s red card would attract a three-match automatic ban on its own if upheld by the FA, but the governing body also added a potential two extra matches with charges over Dudek’s refusal to leave the field. This was already considered a worry, because David Martin is very much considered to be one for the future. Now even Martin looks set to be out, although at this stage it’s not clear for how long exactly.
Martin had come out of his area to clear a ball, but his Middlesbrough opponent caught him high and sent him flying. Liverpool lost the game 3-2.
Two other Reds goalkeepers, Scott Carson and Chris Kirkland, would be idea cover in this crisis – but their loan deals don’t allow them to be recalled before January. Liverpool may now need to request an emergency loan of a keeper from another club to get through this problem.
Martin’s injury came on a day when Rafa Benítez had already been calling for more protection for keepers. The press is full of Jose Mourinho’s complaints about how badly treated his billionaire team were treated by the NHS. Complaints that seem unfounded. Mourinho also claimed that the challenges were malicious and full of intent to injure his players. Rafa Benítez didn’t comment on that aspect of the row, but did say that goalkeepers are treated too roughly in this country compared to elsewhere. He said: “Whether there was intent is not the issue, but challenges where a knee hits a head are fouls and dangerous. For me it is clear, the six-yard box is for the keeper, that's how I see the laws. But here in England everybody is allowed into the six-yard box to push the keeper, stand in front of him, jostle him, stop him jumping. It seems anything can happen.”
Martin’s injury last night of course happened outside the area, but the reason Dudek could be out for five games all stems from the referee in that reserve derby allowing Dudek to be hacked at repeatedly by the opposition attacker, Victor Anichebe. Rafa said this type of thing must be addressed: “We need to protect goalkeepers; sometimes the challenges are very dangerous for them.”
According to Rafa, Dudek wasn’t the only victim of tackles that would have looked over the top in a game of pub football. Martin had come on after Dudek’s red and the Everton players carried on, knowing that they could pretty much do as they pleased with that particular official in charge: “You saw the incidents at Reading, maybe there was no intent but the challenges were still fouls. I have had something similar in a reserve game. The match was against Everton last week and there has been FA charges since then for both clubs. There were two challenges on two goalkeepers in that same game. It was really, really dangerous.”
Rafa is outrage at the fact goalkeepers can be kicked in the head without the attacker worrying about punishment: “If you tackle a goalkeeper in the head what happens? It is a very dangerous challenge, there may be no intent but it is still dangerous. The two challenges in that game were amazing, very dangerous. Crazy. You can sometimes understand a player's reaction when something like that happens. The challenges on Dudek and Martin were both bad ones.”
Rafa says, as if giving the authorities an excuse to act now, that maybe the risk has increased recently due to improved fitness and so the rules need to be applied differently: “Ten years ago players were not as big, quick and strong as maybe they are now, there was not the same chance of injury. But the rules are the same then as they are now. For me it is still a free-kick when a goalkeeper is fouled in the six-yard box. It is more dangerous now because of the strength and speed of players and the game. Ten, 20 years ago it was not the same, but you should still not be allowed to touch a keeper in the six yard box.”
Rafa clearly hates this type of play. He’s someone who believes that the game should be played to the spirit of the laws, not just the words. He’s commented on certain teams that like to push the rules to their limits before, and he wants that dealt with: “Years ago it was a foul. Now it seems you can challenge the goalkeeper, and nothing happens to you. Now you are faced with 6ft 4in strikers challenging you. If the keeper is watching the ball in the air he cannot see the striker and does not know what is about to happen. I have seen a few goals scored in England when the goalkeeper was about to catch the ball, a player jumps into him, and a goal is allowed.”
The bottom line: “You cannot allow this to happen, you have to protect goalkeepers more.”
Liverpool's best chance now is that Martin's is over his injury before the FA start Dudek's ban, as the FA never seem too interested in sorting out justice properly in such situations. And of course the hope that Pepe Reina doesn't suffer any injuries.