Hey screech­ers, leave that Nix kid alone

The Dominion Post - - Sport - LIAM HYS­LOP

OPIN­ION: So peo­ple have made their minds up about Kee­gan Smith al­ready.

The cesspit of so­cial me­dia crit­ics has seen enough from the 18-year-old Welling­ton Phoenix goal­keeper to know he’s not good enough to cut it at A-League level.

Some felt he was at fault for Bris­bane’s se­cond goal in the 68th minute of the 3-3 draw at West­pac Sta­dium on Satur­day night, prob­a­bly be­cause it’s easy to find fault in a goal­keeper.

But take a closer look at the goal and you will see at least four other play­ers and two of­fi­cials who can be at­trib­uted sim­i­lar, if not higher, lev­els of blame.

Daniel Mullen in the first in­stance gives away a need­less free­kick. Fault.

Ref­eree Jarred Gil­lett al­lows Fahid Ben Khal­fal­lah to walk the ball five to seven me­tres closer to the goal from where the in­fringe­ment oc­curred. Fault.

The left-side wall player, Roy Kr­ishna, turns his back on the ball and doesn’t jump when Khal­fal­lah swings his ball in. Even if he jumps, he might not block it, but we’re in an overly crit­i­cal mood, so let’s put this down as a fault too.

Smith does well to save the shot, but let’s give him a fault for po­si­tion­ing or how he set up his wall, be­cause we’re all ex­perts in how to do that.

Bris­bane’s Avram Pa­padopou­los ghosts be­tween two sta­tion­ary Phoenix de­fend­ers, Dario Vi­dosic and An­drija Kalud­jerovic, to poke the re­bound home. Fault for both of them.

The big­gest fault goes to the Video As­sis­tant Ref­eree. Watch the re­play. Watch the back post as Pa­padopou­los starts his run across goal. The man mark­ing him, Mullen, gets fouled by Bris­bane’s Brett Hol­man. If he is al­lowed to track Pa­padopou­los then maybe he gets to the ball ahead of the Roar player and can clear it. Dou­ble fault for the VAR.

And even Smith he made a gen­uine howler in his first four games be­tween the sticks, which he hasn’t, I would still de­fend him.

Think back to Au­gust 2010 when an 18-year-old goal­keeper made his de­but for the Cen­tral Coast Mariners. He spilled a sim­ple cross into the path of Rhyan Grant to tap in for Syd­ney FC’s only goal in a 1-1 draw. Crit­ics be­moaned the loss of in­cum­bent goal­keeper Jess Vanstrat­tan to a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury, ques­tion­ing if the new guy was good enough to fill his boots.

You might have heard of that young fella now. His name is Mathew Ryan and he plays for Brighton and Hove Al­bion in the English Premier League.

Some peo­ple seemed an­noyed that Smith blew a kiss at Mas­simo Mac­carone be­fore the Ital­ian took the equal­is­ing penalty on Satur­day. Lack of re­spect for a 20-year pro, they said. Re­ally, who cares? I had a chuckle and said good on him for try­ing to get any edge he could.

The point of all this is, give Smith a chance to find his feet at this level. He is young and will make mis­takes.

Af­ter all, it is those feet which have got him here in the first place.

Phoenix coach Dar­ije Kalezic has picked him be­cause he feels he is the best goal­keeper to fit their style of want­ing to play out from the back.

That makes the de­ci­sion by the club’s man­age­ment to re-sign Lewis Ital­iano as what they de­scribed at the time as their ‘‘No 1 for sea­son 2017-18’’ on June 10 seem ill-ad­vised.

Kalezic hadn’t even had a chance to look at him when that de­ci­sion was made, and now he’s cho­sen a school­boy as his No 1 in­stead.

That’s no knock on Ital­iano, who re­mains a good shot­stop­per, but he wasn’t the type of goal­keeper Kalezic wanted.

If you want to crit­i­cise any­one, then point your fin­ger in the di­rec­tion of the club man­age­ment for not wait­ing to sign a goal­keeper Kalezic wanted. If that’s not your cup of tea, then point it at Kalezic for in­sist­ing on need­ing a goal­keeper who can play out from the back, de­spite not hav­ing a pro­fes­sional in his squad ca­pa­ble of do­ing that.

But leave Smith alone.

❚ Phoenix fal­ter B7

Welling­ton Phoenix goal­keeper Kee­gan Smith, left, wasn’t shy about mak­ing his pres­ence felt on Satur­day.

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