Jeepers keepers: why Robinson's place should not be as safe

England used to be famous for their security between the goalposts. Sadly, no longer
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The Independent Football

It was once a part of proud England tradition. This was a nation in which the production line could turn out classy goal-keepers as it did classic cars. But long past are the days when England boasted two goalkeepers, Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence, both so highly regarded that at one stage they took it in turns to represent their country.

You have to delve even further back in the chronicles of custodians to discover a time when the headline "Safe as the Banks of England" was regularly attributed to the great Gordon.

Which all serves to reinforce just how meagre England's resources currently are between the posts. No wonder that once again last week, and admittedly primarily from his club manager, Harry Redknapp, we heard the call demanding the reinstatement of 36-year-old David James.

It is a component of the side that tends to be overlooked until the present incumbent commits an aberration, such as that which cost James his England place. And Paul Robinson's air shot in Zagreb, allowing Gary Neville's back-pass to sneak past him for Croatia's second goal, a crass error which he was allowed to mitigate as "a freak" when it was actually rank bad goalkeeping from a seasoned international. Then we hear of nothing else.

The talk on Friday after Steve McClaren revealed his squad to face Spain in Wednesday's friendly may have primarily concerned Joey Barton's introduction, like a squeeze of footballing Super Glue presumably designed to assist team bonding. But in truth, midfield is an area in which the England coach is embarrassed by his riches, just as he can depend on his resources in central defence and, assuming Wayne Rooney is available, his forward players.

But there is no such strength among the goalkeepers. Other than Robinson, who will earn his 33rd cap on Wednesday, there is a disconcerting absence of experience. The Tottenham man is followed by Wigan Athletic's Chris Kirkland, with one senior cap, and Watford's Ben Foster (on loan from Manchester United), who has yet to make a senior appearance.

The former Liverpool goalkeeper Kirkland, at 6ft 5in, has long looked the part if he could only vanquish his injury demons. Yet evidently retrieving the ball from the net as frequently as he is for his club at present is doing his progress no good at all. If his display against Reading on Tuesday is typical of his current form, then God help England's pros-pects. True, Wigan's defenders are scarcely contributing to stability at the back, but Kirkland cannot blame them for the weak punching, indecision and lack of awareness in his area which he exhibited during the Latics' 3-2 defeat at the Madejski Stadium.

The bitter truth is that only six first-choice Premiership goalkeepers are English. The best are all foreign: namely Petr Cech, Edwin van der Sar, Jens Lehmann and Jussi Jaaskelainen.

Perhaps there is potential lurking further down the League? The trouble is that you have to scrutinise possible contenders a lot lower down. Foster has certainly not lacked for experience at shot-stopping. That tends to come with the deal of being on loan at Watford this season. At 23, he has the years on his side, but at 6ft 2in, he lacks the frame demanded of international goalkeepers these days.

Robert Green, another of whom so much was expected, has been replaced by Roy Carroll at West Ham, following that 6-0 defeat by Reading.

So who else is in the frame? Among the England Under-21 players are Ben Alnwick (Tottenham), Scott Carson (Charlton, on loan from Liverpool) and Joe Hart (Tranmere, on loan from Manchester City).

There was a time when such considerations would been viewed as academic. Robinson had succeeded David Seaman (who was not without his own frailties, remember) relatively seamlessly. He conceded only two goals in five games during the World Cup. In fairness to him, he was all set to equal Gordon Banks's record of seven consecutive clean sheets, established in 1966, when he set foot on to that pitch with the inconvenient "bobble" at Maksimir Stadium on 11 October.

Though he remains England's best, he has been exposed at club level this season. At times he lacks a command of his area. James possesses superior goalkeeping powers as a shot-stopper and as one who dominates his area, but the Portsmouth man is always liable to commit a faux pas. Anyway, he hardly represents England's future.

Whether Robinson does, long term, remains open to debate. But there should at least be competition for his place. At the moment there is virtually none. Though nobody would concede it publicly, these are worrying times for the England camp on the goalkeeping front.

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