This weekend saw the introduction of a European past-time, the coveted winter break in England’s top division.
Working differently to the complete shut-down of fixtures ‘enjoyed’ in the likes of Germany and Spain, eight Premier League teams played this weekend and the other twelve will play next weekend, with alternating resting periods.
There was not a single 3pm Saturday kick off in England’s top division this week, so all eyes were on the EFL, which produced some impressive goalkeeping performances. We look at the stoppers who caught the eye over the weekend.
Jon McLaughlin - SUNDERLAND V Ipswich Town
The Scot was brought to Sunderland by his fellow countryman, Jack Ross at the start of the 2018/19 season and for the most part has been an outstanding performer in a side that has otherwise failed to live up their club’s standing in the third tier.
Losing his place temporarily to Lee Burge in October after an uncharacteristic drop in form but has been a mainstay in Sunderland’s resurgence under Phil Parkinson, which has dragged them back into promotion contention and statistically the best defence in League One.
Their new-found solidity under Parkinson has been no small part down to McLaughlin who has pulled off some magnificent displays, behind a new-look 5-3-1-1 which has left the Scotland international less exposed.
Bouncing back following defeat to Portsmouth last week, Sunderland overcome promotion rivals Ipswich on Saturday, but had to work for their 1-0 victory over the Tractor Boys and McLaughlin was in fine form.
Ipswich could have been comfortably ahead at the break, but for some tremendous saves from McLaughlin, particularly from Will Keane just before half-time, as Chris Maguire’s second half finish was enough to secure a vital three points at the Stadium of Light.
Brice Samba - NOTTINGHAM FOREST V Leeds United
The best of Africa’s goalkeeping talent is something we rarely see in English football, with Bruce Grobbelar the one of real note in the relatively recent future.
However, Congo and Forest stopper, Brice Samba could well have the opportunity to showcase his talent in the top flight as he features for a Nottingham Forest side who have catapulted themselves into promotion contention after years of mediocrity in the second tier for the former European Cup winners.
This weekend saw an inform Forest side face promotion rivals Leeds at the City Ground and the home side demonstrated their promotion cadential.
Forest were relatively comfortable for the lion’s share of the game, but with a slender one goal lead Sama pulled off a dramatic save.
An unmarked Liam Cooper powered a header towards the Forest goal, with Samba clawing the loose ball from the very cusp of the goal-line, to keep their lead intact.
A deflated Leeds side would go onto concede again and their lead over third place has been cut to a mere three goals, but how different the top of the Championship would look has Samba not kept Cooper’s header out.
Scott Brown - Northampton Town v PORT VALE
A battle between League Two playoff chasers was decided by a single goal at Sixfields, as Northampton suffered their first home defeat since 5th October.
Scott Brown, Port Vale’s 34-year-old goalkeeper, has spend the majority of his career in England’s fourth tier, notwithstanding a spell with Aberdeen.
Part of Wycombe’s promotion-winning side in 2017/18, Brown could well emulate that, as Saturday’s win puts them level on points his former side Cheltenham in 7th.
The Valiant thwarted a Northampton side who had been all-conquering on their home turf but was no small part down to their goalkeeper.
Brown produced a sting of wonderful saves as The Cobblers cranked up the heat in the second half as they pushed for an equaliser. Firstly, tipping over Sam Hoskin’s spectacular volley and a saving brilliantly from Nicky Adams late on.
Could Scott Brown finally get his chance in the third tier with Port Vale next season? With performances like this there are no reasons why he shouldn’t.