The battle for Lionesses first choice goalkeeper position

The quality of goalkeepers is well on the rise in the women’s game, particularly at the top level with regular goalkeeper coaching now something of a normality rather than a privilege, writes Richard Laverty.

In fact, anyone who watched last year’s World Cup would have seen Karen Bardsley’s stunning fingertip save against Japan, Alyssa Naeher’s penalty denial of Steph Houghton or Christiane Endler’s one-woman showcase of stunning saves for Chile against eventual champions USA. 

FA Cup Final – Manchester City v Everton

Embed from Getty Images

There was something just perfectly poetic about what unfolded at the FA Cup final at Wembley last Saturday. For all the big new foreign signings on show, whether it be Man City’s American duo Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle or Everton’s influx of multi-national talent, it was the homegrown English stars who had the biggest say, at both ends of the field. 

Mewis, who has been the most impactful of the US stars so far showed her power and quality for City’s first, while Valerie Gauvin was a handful and found the net for Willie Kirk’s side. However, it seemed it was Georgia Stanway, assisted by teenager Jess Park, who sealed it. 

But in reality, the game went as far as being decided in the 114th minute because of the two goalkeepers, particularly Everton’s Sandy MacIver. 

There’s been a lot of noise around England’s goalkeeper and who should and shouldn’t be playing. We got so used to the trio of Karen Bardsley, Siobhan Chamberlain and Carly Telford, that now there are realistically six or seven options between the sticks for Phil Neville and soon-to-be head coach Sarina Wiegman, nobody has really nailed down the number one shirt. 

To have both MacIver and Manchester City’s Ellie Roebuck and Birmingham City’s Hannah Hampton is not just to have three great options, they are all goalkeepers for the future, none yet anywhere near their peak. 

All three are also the epitome of the modern-day goalkeeper, all three excellent in playing out with their feet as they are with their hands. 

2018 Under 20 World Cup

Embed from Getty Images

I was at the Under 20 World Cup in northern France back in 2018 when MacIver and Roebuck were rivals for the number one shirt, with Manchester United’s Emily Ramsey also in the squad, but a little further behind in her development. 

Roebuck was already playing fairly regularly for Manchester City, but not to the extent she is now, while MacIver was still in the US studying at Clemson University. 

Perhaps it was ignorance, but at the time I was surprised a goalkeeper so young already playing regular FA WSL football was on the bench, such to the extent that it was MacIver who Mo Marley chose to play every single minute of England’s march to the bronze medal, with MacIver winning the award for best goalkeeper at the tournament. 

The pair had very different paths to get to Saturday’s showpiece final, yet also so similar their paths indeed converged briefly at Manchester City. 

MacIver in 2014 was brought off the bench at just 15 years old to replace Kirstie Levell in the FA Youth Cup final for Everton against rivals Liverpool. Her progress and talent led her to join Manchester City’s academy in 2015. 

Six months later, she’d be joined by another prodigious young talented goalkeeper by the name of Roebuck, who joined from Sheffield United’s academy. 

It is there where their paths went different ways. Roebuck decided to stay in England and pursue her dream at Manchester City, while MacIver headed off for a four-year stint stateside. 

Ellie Roebuck

Embed from Getty Images

Such was Nick Cushing’s faith in Roebuck, at the end of the 2016 season he granted Roebuck her first team debut. 

The league may have been won, but with half an hour to go of the final game of the season and an unbeaten campaign on the line, it was a big show of faith in Roebuck at the time. 

Both have progressed so rapidly. At the start of 2017, I watched Roebuck in a pre-season friendly vs FFC Frankfurt at the City Academy and was worried by her lack of ability at the time to reach shots going in the corner, she didn’t seem to have that leap on her at the time. 

Now, she’s one of the best and has a catalogue of top saves already bigger than what others create in their whole career, her save from Drew Spence vs Chelsea a few years ago is already down in FA WSL folklore as one of the top stops. 

Alexandra MacIver 

Embed from Getty Images

MacIver returned to England at the start of the year with Everton, amidst stiff competition with her former youth team team mate Levell and Finland’s Tinja-Riikka Korpela, but soon established herself as the number one, no mean feat alongside two excellent shot-stoppers. 

On Saturday, both were largely flawless. Roebuck had a quieter game but had to be alert to tip over a header from a corner, which would have been an almost identical goal to the one I saw her concede against the German side nearly four years ago, but not now. 

MacIver deserved to be on the winning side, but football has no time for fairness. Her stunning double save tipping a shot onto the post before getting back up to push Chloe Kelly’s rebound over the bar was the highlight, but she regularly thwarted the City attack throughout, before Stanway undid all her hard work with moments to go. 

There are others who can no doubt compete with both of them for an England shirt moving forward, but it’s hard to look past MacIver and Roebuck being the ones to lead the next generation of the Lionesses, and future head coach Wiegman will see her choice of number one as probably one of the toughest when she takes over next summer.

Follow Rich on Twitter @RichJLaverty

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: