Jed Steer is Aston Villa’s unsung hero

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Steer could feature against Bristol City

“Every time I got in the lift and I pressed the button a voice would say ‘going up’ and I would think to myself: ‘That’s about right. Yes, we are,’” – there’s been no shortage of ups and downs during Jed Steer’s career.

Aston Villa fans congregated in their masses, a claret and blue carnival was brewing only 12 months after falling short under the very arch that has symbolised so much heartbreak over the past decade for those travelling from around the second city.

The capital was not a happy hunting ground for Villa. In the 2018 calendar year, under Steve Bruce and later Dean Smith, Villa failed to win a single game in London – with a crushing blow to Fulham at the national stadium packed in the middle of a rollercoaster year, the prospect of a second play-off final in as many years brought an equal share of trepidation and excitement for the Villa faithful.

You would’ve forgiven the 40,000 strong Villa contingent for soaking up the sun and indeed some booze to quell the nerves as the Wembley’s West End welcomed back some Green Man regulars.

It was the fourth time Villa had appeared at Wembley in five years, though an FA Cup Final was a distant memory as scars from Tom Cairney’s winner in 2018 were still raw.

Adjacent to Wembley’s West End, those representing the fallen giant were finishing their massages and final preparations. Amongst them, Jack Grealish, John McGinn, Axel Tuanzebe, Tyrone Mings and Tammy Abraham.

The Hilton Hotel was a short walk across Wembley Way, but few of Villa’s promotion party took the pressures of that very 2018-19 season in their stride more so than Steer.

His story with Villa didn’t simply begin by becoming an instrumental part of Villa’s club-record ten-match winning run nor because of his play-off semi-final penalty shoot-out heroics. While there might already be enough evidence to name Steer amongst some of Villa’s unsung mortals, his chance to make history with this great club had been in the works for over six years.

Springing from his goal line to grasp the ball with his fingers, sprawling across the goal to deny Ahmed Hegazi before Mason Holgate and even Steven Fletcher at Hillsborough earlier in that season, Steer’s penalty saves and influence in Villa’s all-important promotion charge cannot be understated.

The Villa goalkeeper, who started the season by being sent on loan to Charlton, fully repaid the faith shown in him by Dean Smith with two excellent penalty saves to determine not only the course of the semi-final tie against West Bromwich Albion but the club’s recent history to tempt a bright future ahead.

 

In fact, before returning from Valley Parade in January, Steer’s days at Villa seemed to be numbered. A loan move to Lee Boyer’s Addicks proceeded successive loans to Huddersfield Town, Yeovil Town and Doncaster Rovers – Steer’s moment to shine never seemed likely to present itself.

Learning off Shay Given in Paul Lambert’s initial years in the Villa Park hot-seat, Steer had worked with six permanent Villa gaffers before Smith took a gamble on the so often third-choice benchwarmer.

Steering Aston Villa back to the Premier League

After securing a win on his opening game against Swansea, Smith’s side would win away at Frank Lampard’s Derby 3-0 and Middlesborough by the same, convincing margin. Most satisfying of all was a 4-2 victory over bitter rivals Birmingham despite their nine minutes in dreamland threatening to spoil Smith’s first game in charge of a second city derby. In reality, it couldn’t have been further from the truth, Villa turned on the style, Jack scored his first against Blues and Alan Hutton was halfway to Mosley before he netted one of the most memorable of derby goals you’re likely to witness. Hurling himself to the admiring Holte End, the Scottish Cafu would live up to his Brazilian counterpart for one day and one day only, when it truly mattered.

Alan Hutton, the Scottish Cafu

In the turbulent manner, Villa so often seem to operate, any progress under Smith would shortly undo itself after winning only two of the 14 fixtures that preceded Villa’s 3-0 win on Teesside and Jack Grealish’s shin injury had sidelined, head and shoulders, the best player in the league.

Villa’s season was in tatters and the play-off picture had forgotten about the team who’d failed to beat Stoke, Reading, Hull and QPR, before losing 3-0 to Wigan at the height of their midseason slump.

Amidst Villa’s sub-par festive performances, goalkeeper Steer was recalled from his loan at Charlton and played in goal in the 2-2 draw with QPR in B6. His return came following the season-ending Achilles injury to Ørjan Nyland.

Steer told Villa TV at the time: “It was great to be back out there in front of the home fans. On New Year’s Day, I was expecting a good turnout and the fans certainly didn’t disappoint. The atmosphere was great… it was great to be back out there in a Villa shirt.

“I am looking forward to working with Cutts too because I think he will develop me as a goalkeeper. I am looking forward to being around a very, very good group of players.

“It’s been good to get the games with Charlton. I needed them after I had a couple of years out of the game. Getting the games have made me match sharp which has been great. Let’s see what happens now.”

‘Please welcome back number 10 Jack Grealish!’ Waking out with a captain’s armband strapped to his bicep, the returning Grealish would inspire Villa to a first league win in over a month, dictating proceedings and ending a 4-0 half-time rout against Derby by planting a volley into Scott Carson’s top right corner.

Handing Grealish the captains armband would be a masterstroke from Smith as Villa embarked on a club-record winning run that propelled a Villa side that was languishing in mid-table back into the play-off picture. Emulating a young Gabby Agbonlahor at St. Andrew’s was the poetic justice Grealish deserved after being assaulted on the pitch, we’ll always have the last laugh and in what turned out to be the final grudge match with Birmingham during Villa’s prolonged spell in the second division – and Steer’s first taste of derby day, second city style.

Eight wins later and Villa had consolidated their play-off place, netting 18 goals and keeping an enviable defensive record with Tuanzebe, Mings and Steer all impressing before contesting a play-off final place for the second year in a row. Having scored one of the Championship’s more bizarre goals at Elland Road, not only would Villa have seen the back of Patrick Bamford but Leeds United too, following play-off capitulation at the hands of Frank’s Rams.

Grealish and Steer celebrate the win over West Brom

As Steer acclimatised to his familiar, yet new matchday surroundings, he paid tribute to the backing Villa fans gave en route to the promised land.

“The fans have been great”, Steer said before embarking on playoff glory.

“The noise they make is phenomenal, running towards that Holte End there’s always a big roar, it really gets the boys going and when we need that little bit of extra support its there to help us.

“We hear them, we can hear the roar every time they do it and it gives us a real lift knowing every time they’re behind us.”

The goalkeeper who would often be cascaded to the side, banished away from first-team duties in seasons past, built a report with the Villa fans so eager to see their heroes drag the club back to the top flight.

Steer recalled opening ‘the blinds and there was already a sea of claret and blue outside which was amazing’, as Villa fans geared up for a second playoff final in successive seasons against Derby. Though Steer had already played his part until now – a 2-1 win over Lampard’s side meant it was job done for Villa and Steer, his time had finally come to embrace the ovation of sn endearing Villa faithful.

Earning a shot in the top flight

Villa immediately sought after rewarding their heroic stopper with a new contract extension that will see him remain at the club until 2023. The 28-year-old made 19 appearances for Villa during his breakout Championship season.

Once on the books at Norwich City, Steer has been at Villa since 2013 but has spent most of his career at Villa in dressing rooms away from Bodymoor Heath, earning his stripes in lower league football, and so a shot at Premier League football was duly deserved.

Steer in training

Steer admits that Edwin van der Sar was his hero as a young boy when he’d watch the Premier League as a teenager. Winning promotion with Villa meant more than merely lifting aloft the trophy that had been passed across the Wembley executive boxes as Grealish’s cut eyebrow continued to swell up.

“Last season was brilliant – the lead up to the Play-Off Final was fantastic,” Steer said.

“To get promoted and then sign a new deal was the target and I’m thankful to have been able to do it. When I got told last August I could go out on loan I thought that was my Villa career probably over. To be sitting here now and about to embark on the Premier League with Aston Villa is something I couldn’t have imagined. I’m over the moon.”

In typical Steer fashion, he was dealt a blow to his dreams of playing regularly in the Premier League when a pesky injury dropped his chance of replacing Tom Heaton in Villa’s starting ranks.

“I remember the ball going over my head and thinking, ‘I could be in a bit of trouble here’, Steer told Sky Sports after falling awkwardly at Molineux having replaced the injured Heaton from the week before.

“I was back-pedalling and went to take off to try and get something on the ball, then felt as if I had been shot in the back of my leg. The scan came back with a partial tear of my Achilles.

“The rehab has gone really well and, as worrying as it is with the UK in lockdown, these weeks off have given me extra time to get stronger. It’s been frustrating that I haven’t been able to get out on the grass sooner, but this time at home has given me the chance to really work on my strength and it felt so good to get my boots back on.

“We’ve also got a group chat with all the boys and the manager in. He has been in regular contact with the players. While we haven’t been able to get into the training ground as a group, we have been able to keep up contact and improve as a squad and individually.

“It’s about seeing the end goal. To be fit, back training & back playing. It’s about wearing an Aston Villa shirt again. On the days when you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, keeping my eye on the end goal helps me through it & keeps my motivation high.

“It’s been frustrating that I haven’t been able to get out on the grass sooner, but this time at home has given me the chance to really work on my strength and it felt so good to get my boots back on.

During the lockdown period, Steer worked alongside Villa’s injury prevention specialist, John Hartley, and returned in time for this season’s early EFL Cup ties. Not being able to start in last season’s competition due to injury, Steer might have started in goal for Villa’s latest visit to Wembley for the EFL Cup final, but this term, he managed to start in a 3-0 away victory at Bristol City before Villa were knocked out by Stoke in the next round.

Steer was eager to make the most of the lockdown period in order to cause a selection headache for Smith following the arrival of £20 million goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez in the summer.

“Leading up to the lockdown, my physio John put measures in place that would enable me to work from home,” Steer added.

“It was actually a fairly smooth transition for me. Fortunately, I have recently converted my garage into a gym and that couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I have strength days in the gym and then I have days outside. I’m in my garden and John is in his and we go through my session together over FaceTime.

“We’ve also got a group chat with all the boys and the manager in. He has been in regular contact with the players. While we haven’t been able to get into the training ground as a group, we have been able to keep up contact and improve as a squad and individually.”

The final 18: Steer’s influence when Villa needed it the most

‘Destiny at Tammy Abraham’s feet’ – the all-important spot-kick kindly fell to Villa’s 26-goal man, but as delirious Villa players raced from the half-way line, it was Steer who took the praise from all of a claret and blue persuasion at The Hawthorns.

Abraham kept it simple when he described Jed Steer’s spot-kick heroics, insisting: “What a keeper!”

Steer saved West Brom’s first two in the penalty shoot-out, which paved the way for Abraham to seal another trip to Wembley for Villa – Villa’s former goal-getter was obviously full of praise for Steer.

He said: “For my own penalty, I am used to the pressure. I like the pressure.

“But it’s not down to me. It’s down to Jed. What a performance in the shoot-out. He was brilliant.”
On the feeling among the group, he added: “It means so much to everyone.

“You can see the passion on the pitch and in the stands.

“All through the season, these amazing fans have supported us all the way. I am pleased for them tonight.”

Steer himself said he had no nerves heading into the play-off semi-final shoot-out with West Brom, stressing: “I was looking forward to it.”

The goalkeeper was thrilled to have an impact – and delighted for the supporters.

He told Villa TV: “When it went to penalties, I was looking forward to it.

“I’ve never actually been in a penalty shoot-out before. I had a slight feeling that I might save one. But to save two was great. It was a good night. What went through my mind? Save them! It was as simple as that.

“We’d practiced penalties leading up to it. Over the last week or so, I think I’ve faced about 150 penalties. What a feeling to save two in a shoot-out.

“Also, let’s not forget, our boys have still got to stick it in the net. They held their nerve and finished it off. It was great scenes at the end. It was absolutely brilliant. Our fans are unbelievable.”

Steer’s precise preparations and attitude to wrestle back a chance to prove himself as Villa’s No.1 was in many ways down to the influence of goalkeeper coach Neil Cutler.

“He’s superb! He’s one of the very best I have worked with,” Steer told Villa TV.

“His ability to go into the finer details, his approachability – being able to go up and ask questions and advice – that’s all massive to me. It’s not just me though, he’s made us all better as a group.
I can’t speak highly enough of him and the impact he’s made.”

Steer became an integral part of Smith’s side as promotion was achieved at the third time of asking following the club’s relegation to the second tier in 2016. During that time, Steer was often shipped away on loan moves since joining the club in 2013.

“I came here as a very young goalkeeper, learning my trade,” Steer said.

“I had my loan spells away, which were great. I got my games in. The last couple of years have been very stop-start for me. I had a couple of serious injuries but, in all honesty, they’ve only made me stronger mentally.

“I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Going out to Charlton did me the world of good. It got me going again. I’d not played continuous football before that point since I was at Huddersfield. Working with Andy Marshall down there, he really got me firing.

“Coming back here and working with the management team has been top drawer. I’ve now managed to get into the team. I’ve loved it. We’ve picked up some really good points. I want to stay in the team, of course – that’s my aim.”

Aston Villa and the six loan moves

Villa now boasts one of the most competitive goalkeeper departments in the Premier League, at least outside of the top six. England international Tom Heaton will continue to push new signing Martínez for a starting birth, while Steer is back to full fitness. Even academy products Viljami Sinisalo and Hungarian stopper Akos Onodi boost Villa’s ranks as the club are well stocked in promising academy goalkeepers.

Neil Cutler - The Aston Villa goalkeeper coach

Steer is constantly improving in training with Cutler and more experienced Premier League goalkeepers.

“At the end of the day, everyone wants to play,” he told Villa TV.

“When you’re the second choice, there’s obviously a goalkeeper playing in front of you.

“But, while that’s the case, I’ve always been the type of character to want to show people – manager, goalkeeping coach, the coaching staff – that I can play and I want to be No.1.

“You can either sulk about it that you’re not playing or you can embrace it and look to improve every day in your ambition to become the No.1. That’s what I have done since I have been back here. I also knew coming back here and working with Cutts that I would improve – and I definitely have. I have enjoyed it.

“I always think if I can improve by 0.1% every day, they all add up. That’s my mindset when I go to Bodymoor Heath every morning.”

The 28-year-old goalkeeper moved to the second city from Norwich in 2013, as Paul Lambert picked an impressive young goalkeeper to make the move to Villa Park with him.

“Moving 160 miles from home is a nerve-wracking prospect for anyone – let alone a young footballer learning his trade,” Steer admitted.

But that’s the commitment goalkeeper Jed Steer was willing to make. Unfazed as he joined Villa as a 20-year-old from the Canaries in July 2013, the youngster spent the majority of his first season as understudy to No.1 Brad Guzan.

Having worked with Steer for three years during his time at Carrow Road, boss Paul Lambert knew the stopper better than most. Though Steer was make multiple loan moves away from Villa Park to improve as a young goalkeeper.

He said: “Coming out of two loans, I feel like I’ve grown up loads and become a man.

“I joined Doncaster at the beginning of the season so everyone was still trying to get to know each other and finding out how everyone plays. Overall, I really enjoyed the whole experience at Donny, I learned so much and that also helped when I joined Yeovil to carry on my development there.

“Yeovil was a bit further away from home but I really enjoyed my time there. Again, I kept learning and getting information from all the coaching staff. Playing all the games that I did, you just keep learning new things.

“When you’re put in different circumstances, it’s how you deal with it. I was really pleased with my performances at both clubs – overall, they were two really enjoyable spells. I also made some good friends there.

“Down in Yeovil, I lived in a nice little two-bed cottage with some of the other loan players. I lived with Tom Eaves and Jamar Loza who I was also at Norwich with so that was good to spend time with him. Going into a new changing room where you don’t know anyone is difficult and it’s handy when you’re able to live with someone and create that friendship.

“When you live with them you get to know them a bit more and because you’re both new you can go into the changing room knowing someone. That was a massive help.”

In his three-month loan spell in Somerset, his second at Huish Park following a short stint while on Norwich’s books, Steer established himself as a firm fans’ favourite, like he would later on with Villa.

Despite struggling at the wrong end of League One, the Glovers enjoyed a fruitful FA Cup run and drew Manchester United in a mouth-watering third-round tie. Louis Van Gaal’s side ran out 2-0 winners with a frontline featuring Angel Di Maria, Wayne Rooney and Radamel Falcao.

Steer described the experience as ‘unbelievable’.

“I’d sat on the bench a couple of times against Man Utd last season here but to be involved and play the game was fantastic and a great experience that I can cherish.

“The team played really well. We limited them to only a few chances. It took a wonder goal to break us and they got one late on. The team did really well and we were able to build on that.

“Knowing that we gave such a good account of ourselves against one of the best teams in the world gives you confidence as an individual going into other games.”

After 17 matches and the same number of clean sheets, Steer left Yeovil in good knick. Despite sitting bottom of League One, the Somerset side were unbeaten in three out of their five games since the lucrative Cup tie but Steer cited a penalty save in a goalless draw with Coventry as well as a victory over play-off chasing Bradford City as personal highlights.

Learning from ‘goalkeeping legend’ Shay Given

Following Steer’s stint at Yeovil, he played in Villa’s final Premier League game of the season – a 1-0 defeat to Burnley, while trusted No.1 Shay Given was injured and resting ahead of an FA Cup final the following week.

Danny Ings’ well-placed header after six minutes was the difference in a game where Steer looked confident, composed and performed when called upon.

Steer learned from Given

The goalkeeper told Villa TV: “I’ve never experienced that type of game or atmosphere before. I’ve been out on loan but that’s nothing like it was out there. “That’s what I want more of. I want to be playing more here.

“I know I’ll have to bide my time though. Hopefully, I can get some more games out on loan and come back at some stage and kick on again. I learned loads from going out and playing games on loan. You pick up different little tips here and there.

“I’ve learnt from different goalkeeping coaches and playing in the matches, you learn as you go along. That really helped me out there against Burnley.

“It’s an experience I’ve never had out there before. It was brilliant – although I’m obviously gutted we lost the game.”

Under the leadership of goalkeeping coach Tony Parks, Steer worked with Brad Guzan and Given on a daily basis.

“He was absolutely brilliant!” Steer said about his experienced team-mate, Given.

“At that age, being able to work with Shay, I was able to learn so much on the pitch – but just as much off the pitch as well. As a professional, what he did to prepare himself for training and games was something that I still do now. He had a big effect on me.

“He’s a goalkeeping legend. So what an honour for me to be able to work with him on a day-to-day basis. I really enjoyed it.”

As attentions would soon turn to the impending FA Cup final at Wembley, Steer was looking forward to the season-ending showpiece despite not being able to be included in the matchday squad following FA Cup involvement with Yeovil earlier that season.

His chance to walk out in front of a jam-packed national stadium with claret and blue ticker tape streaming from the West End would eventually come – his impact on Aston Villa’s Premier League promotion is a modern-day fairytale at a club that knows all too well a hero when they see one.

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