At the start of this season, I wrote a piece for Blowing Bubbles calling on Adrian to be dropped for Darren Randolph. It’s not the first time I’ve been wrong on matters to do with West Ham United.
Why? Aft er the past few months of Randolph calamities, anyone else would be better. And when Adrian returned to the squad for the Everton game, there was a sigh of relief and warm cheer when his name was read out. Randolph had been at fault for too many goals. Opta tweeted aft er the Sunderland draw that he had ‘made more errors for goals than any other Premier League player this season. Clumsy.’
I was, however, surprised by his omission for the Everton game. Th e Daily Mirror’s Online Sports Editor Matt Lawless wrote a column almost exclusively about Darren Randolph in the Everton programme that spoke of Slaven Bilic putting his faith in the Irish shotstopper.
I don’t like to change goalkeeper on a gameby-game basis,’ Bilic said before the game. ‘Randolph has been waiting for his chance for a long time and he has done well for us. So you have to stay behind players – especially keepers.’ Come kick off , it seems Lawless and all of us had been misled. Bilic decided to go back on his word and bring back Adrian.
A moment of clarity from the Croatian or a bit of indecision at play? Or was he swayed by the outpouring on social media from fans clamouring for Adrian to be brought back into the starting line-up?
Possibly, but it doesn’t look great for the manager to give his support to Randolph one minute and back off the next. But Bilic needs a ruthless streak with a squad frequently lacking in any discipline or imagination.
Th at it has taken so long for individuals like Arthur Masuaku and Edimilson Fernandes to be given fi rst-team places – even Havard Nordtveit – shows a certain loyalty from Bilic to players that I do not necessarily question. Loyalty is an admirable trait. But during a season like this, when questions arise regarding how strenuous and competitive training has been, it’s about time Bilic showed a capacity to not only give his players opportunities to grow and gain experience, but to also know their position is not a given.
Indeed, Adrian was largely untested against a below par Everton side and with Romelu Lukaku marked expertly, he hardly needed to do much. Of course, his early mistake almost let the Belgian striker in aft er being closed down. Th e ball bounced favorably for the Spaniard and he kept a clean sheet for the rest of the game.
But that one little example of Adrian’s tendency to play with fire was enough for me to remember why Bilic brought in Randolph in the first place. So what to decide, who to choose? Adrian feels like the safer pair of hands, prone to mistakes but less at fault for such a large number of goals as Randolph has been. Th at said, Randolph has had his moments, and last season in the FA Cup he was phenomenal.
That Liverpool tie under the lights of the Boleyn only reached its magical conclusion because the Irishman was on top form against Christian Benteke. Yet if this club is to make the leap forward we have all been promised, to flick between two keepers who have their moments of memory loss, it would not be amiss for Bilic to think of adding another face to the competition.
Of all the lessons to be learnt from this season, squad depth is a key one and it would not harm our prospects to obtain another pair of hands who can challenge the other two and perhaps make them both raise their game. Yes, West Ham’s priority in the summer is to shore up that awfully leaky defence and to finally find a striker capable of scoring and staying fit for 90 minutes, week aft er week.
But the squad needs to raise the bar across the board, and neither Adrian nor Randolph makes one feel completely content. Choose or change? Let’s go for competition: make another face fight for that place between the sticks.