Aston Villa’s winning run may have come to an end, but the club still managed to stretch their unbeaten run to 12 games, albeit in bizarre fashion. The fiery encounter with Leeds United will be remembered for the controversial goals scored in the game which finished 1-1. The Yorkshire club dominated the closing stages after Villa were unfairly reduced to 10 men. Whilst the eyes are drawn to the towering Tyrone Mings for praise in preserving a point, huge credit must go to goalkeeper Jed Steer.
Villa’s goalkeeping situation this season has been farcical quite frankly. After Sam Johnstone’s departure from the club last summer due to a lack of cash available to buy him on a permanent deal, the club were somewhat stranded heading into the season. Mark Bunn was still on the books, and Steve Bruce bought in Orjan Nyland from German outfit Ingolstadt. This meant that Steer started the season as the third choice out of three. In Bruce’s wisdom, he decided to loan out Steer to Charlton Atheltic on a season-long loan.
Nyland had his moments. An extraordinary double save at home against Reading especially sticks in the mind. As does a crucial penalty save against Swansea to secure a vital 1-0 win on Boxing Day. But generally, the Norwegian stopper struggled for consistency. Cruelly, just as he seemed to have turned a corner, injury struck with a ruptured Achilles ruling him out for the rest of the season.
By this time, Dean Smith had taken the reins at Villa and immediately Steer was recalled from his stint at The Valley. However, his reintroduction would be merely as a cover for new £7million signing Lovre Kalinic, although he was now ahead of Bunn at least.
Kalinic meanwhile, looked set for an uninterrupted run in the first team. Yet just seven games into his Villa career, the Croatian international suffered a concussion in the home game against West Bromwich Albion. Steer would come on and impress Smith to such an extent in the remainder of that game and the next one that he stuck with the ex-Norwich keeper even when Kalinic was fit again just one game later.
Steer has taken his chance and been in great form ever since. The form of Mings, in particular, shouldn’t be underestimated in Steer’s rise. The Bournemouth loanee has helped the defence as a whole look much more solid. But to credit others for Steer’s performances is also unfair, because he has certainly had crucial moments in ensuring Villa were able to make history by winning 10 games on the spin.
The penalty save at such an important point of the match against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough was a particular highlight. You may say that Steven Fletcher’s spot-kick wasn’t the best. But Steer had done his homework (and credit must also go to goalkeeping coach Neil Cutler on that also) and had a fair idea of where the kick would be going. And any penalty save is a good save. The importance of it cannot be underestimated.
Villa may well have been able to salvage a draw perhaps, but we know from experience that Bruce, now manager of the Owls, would certainly have shut up shop and made it extremely difficult.
On Sunday in particular, I thought Steer was immense in the closing stages. Despite the team throwing themselves into numerous blocks and challenges, Steer made two or three superb saves, all the while hobbling around his area. Steer was clearly injured but Villa had made their permitted three changes. If not, it looks certain that Matija Sarkic would’ve been introduced for his Villa debut. In that environment, anything could’ve happened.
It may be the case that losing the game wouldn’t have affected things much in terms of finishing positions. But I do think not losing that game was psychologically important, especially ahead of a potential rematch with Leeds in the playoffs.
Steer’s determination in battling through obvious pain was superb. Hopefully, there are no lasting repercussions. So the question now is, what does the future hold? Has Villa wasted a sizeable £7million on Kalinic unnecessarily?
Steer will certainly finish the season as number one due to Kalinic going under the knife to sort out a knee injury. The big man hadn’t covered himself in glory in his first few appearances. Perhaps this underlying injury was contributed to that. There is no doubt that as his country’s number one choice between the sticks, he is a quality keeper.
Steer’s new contract
Steer was out of contract this summer until he penned an extension to his current deal last month. He’s now contracted to Villa until the summer of 2020. That short deal seems to suit Steer more than it does the club right now. Lose the number one spot and Steer will surely look move on a free at the end of next summer after eight years at the club.
On the other hand, if he does manage to cement his place as Villa’s number one, he is in a strong position to negotiate a more lucrative deal. Either with Villa or, dangerously, with any potential suitors at that point.
It would be a bold move for Smith to start Steer as number one for the season ahead of his own big money signing. But as we’ve seen already, Smith isn’t beneath making ballsy decisions including keeping Kalinic benched already. Steer should feel confident that as long as he performs then he’ll keep his shirt under the current regime.
After such a long time at the club with little fanfare, this could finally be Steer’s big chance. After being loaned out to a League One club at the beginning of this season, he could find himself being a Premier League keeper at the beginning of the next one.