Night of the howler will for ever haunt Robinson's career

England's goalkeeper will not be allowed to forget his howler in Zagreb despite an outpouring of sympathy, writes Glenn Moore
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The Independent Football

If Paul Robinson needed a wise and friendly shoulder to lean on during the long flight back from Zagreb on Wednesday night he had just the right person on the plane. Twenty years ago Ray Clemence, who is now England's goalkeeping coach, conceded a goal which was as embarrassing as Robinson's against Croatia.

With England drawing 1-1 at Hampden Park Clemence let a weak shot from Kenny Dalglish slip between his hands and legs and into the net for what proved Scotland's winning goal. "I put it behind me by thinking of all the good and positive things I had done beforehand, and that is what Robbo has to do," Clemence said yesterday.

Which may be easier said than done. Fans up and down the country enjoy taunting the opposition keeper for the flimsiest of reasons. Robinson's gaffe on Wednesday night has given them enough ammunition to last a lifetime. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the game in Zagreb it was tempting to view the moment as career-defining.

If so, it only emphasises the unfairness of a life in goal. In the first half Robinson was clearly England's best player and, though he was at fault for both goals, he made further outstanding saves late in the evening. Yet it will be a night he will never be allowed to forget.

Robinson himself appeared philosophical about his plight. "I went to kick it, there was a bobble and the ball wasn't there," he said. "It was just an absolute freak, there was nothing you could do about it."

Clemence could only sympathise. "He has a lot of good things in his career he can look back on. [Croatia's goal] was one of those moments that prompt people to say, 'You've got to be mad to be a goalkeeper'. Paul made four or five fantastic saves but his match will be remembered for that particular moment. It is part of being a goalkeeper. You can have a fantastic 89 minutes but be remembered for one incident in the other minute. Most of us have had something like it happen at some stage. You just have to bounce back from it."

Robinson, 27 on Sunday, was given further support yesterday from Martin Jol, his manager at Tottenham, and Pat Jennings, the club's finest goalkeeper and a current coach at White Hart Lane. "It was not a mistake," Jol said, "it was a freak moment. All the top players will tell you they have similar moments. But why do you think he's the No 1 in England? It's because he's a tough lad. He knows that you need a good mentality to be the No 1 in England."

"What can you do about it? It hit the turf and leapt up," Jennings said. "I have seen it happen to goalkeepers down the years, he was just unfortunate that it happened to him in such an important game."

Robinson can expect the taunting to begin tomorrow at Villa Park, but Jennings said: "He just has to forget it. He will think about it, obviously, but it was just a fluke and he has to put it behind him."

The incident brought to mind several similar goals in recent years, most notably Aston Villa's Peter Enkelman allowing a throw-in from team-mate Olof Mellberg to bobble past him in the Birmingham derby in 2002. The previous year Bradford City's Gary Walsh mis-kicked while attempting to clear against Manchester United. Tim Flowers and Ian Walker have both been beaten by balls kicking up off the turf. Such incidents are, however, relatively rare because pitches are generally very good.

Jennings, perhaps forgetting that in his day keepers could pick up back-passes, said: "For a goalkeeper it is better now because the pitches are better up and down the country and you do not get as many of those as you used to get."

The quality of Premiership pitches may, however, have given Robinson a false sense of security when kicking in Zagreb. Had he been used to poor pitches he may have taken a touch - he had time to - though that would have reduced the power he would have been able to impart on his clearance.

Despite the gaffe Robinson is likely to start for England against the Netherlands in Amsterdam next month although Steve McClaren might still give one of his understudies a chance as, apart from the currently omitted David James, they all lack experience.

Memo to self... Just what was the England coach putting down in writing?

Seconds after Paul Robinson's unfortunate air-kick, Steve McClaren was captured on camera furiously scribbling away on his trusty bit of paper. What could he have been writing? Was it:

a) Muppet!

b) To do: arrange optician's appointment for goalkeeper

c) or: Tell goalkeeper he's played his last game for England

d) Idiot!

e) Shopping list: cock-up au vin ready meal; dog's dinner; two short planks; 'The Art of Football Management' by Sven Goran Eriksson; Ibuprofen, two packets. NB: No turnips

f) To do: write opinion piece for 'News of the World' disputing existence of God

g) Wally!

h) So that's why Chelsea sand their pitch

i) Dear Geoff, Brian and the rest of the FA: it is with great regret that I tender my resignation. Like Kevin Keegan, I have realised I am not up to the job...

j) Twerp!

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