Our The Man At The Back
An up and down season for Wednesday fans: it seems it was ever thus. Off-field squabbles, boardroom wrangles, rumour, innuendo.. oh yes, and some football too.
Pre-season, it was apparent to all where the most solid signing had to be made - the #1 position needed a permanent and effective goalkeeper if the Owls had any chance of progressing. Chris Adamson, the Owls only senior keeper looked completely out of his depth. Wednesday fans had been spoilt by the services on loan of two excellent keepers in recent seasons: Scott Carson and Iain Turner had both performed admirably between the sticks. If we had one absurd wish it was that one of them, somehow, unbelievably, would become part of our team.
With hope, we greeted the news that England U21 keeper Lee Grant was to come to Hillsborough from Derby. We reasoned he had to have something about him, or he wouldn't have drawn the attention of the national team. But why didn't he make it with Derby? Just another cast-off? Our paranoia kicked in.. what's the matter with the guy?
Wednesday's worst start to a league season ever exacerbated matters. It certainly didn't help Grant (or his challenger for the jersey Rob Burch, newly signed from Spurs reserve ranks) settle nicely into the team. But where was the commanding presence we were all demanding? In those early season games, with the shakiest defensive display we've seen in years taking place in front of him, and in the apparent absence of a true leader in the back four, Lee just didn't seem to have what it takes to get in there, boss the box and take charge.
Brian Laws tinkered.. five games in, Burch got a chance and didn't take it. Back to Grant. And things started to turn round. Due in part to the steel provided in the spine of the squad by loanees Michael Johnson and Graham Kavanagh, Grant got better protection, Wednesday put some points on the board, and he started to show us what he could do.
What started to catch the eye, and still does, is Lee Grant's shot-stopping ability. Let's go back and look at some highlights.. how about the second half at QPR? Point blank saves from Scott Sinclair and Rowan Vine before a full-length save from Sinclair again earned us a vital point. Laws saluted his performance as 'magnificent'.
How about that double save at Preston, dynamically pushing the ball onto the bar and getting up for the rebound? At Southampton, tipping Wright-Philips' shot round the post. More recently, denying Derby's Gary Teale with a top-drawer palm away. Week in, week out, Grant is making the TV highlights reels with great saves. His other skills have improved too as his confidence increases. Sure, we could be picky (we're Owls fans and we always will have a grumble) and we could say he could still command the box more and kick better under pressure, but let's pick up on the fact that his positioning, catching, and release of the ball (one particular fine example against Blackpool, whipping the ball out to JJ resulting in a goal for Tudgay) has definitely got much better. The ironic cheers are gone, real applause now rings out.
Here's Vital SWFC forum member USOwl: 'This may not be the most popular opinion, but from an absolutely dismal start with us, Grant has now become arguably one of the best - if not the best - keeper in this division. The way he has been playing he wouldn't disgrace a Prem outfit. Sure, he needs to work on his skills for commanding his defence, but I'm certain that will come too.'
mick66owl: 'I think he has improved brilliantly but still needs to command his area and come for more crosses.. a mid term report I would give him 8.5 out of 10. Keep up the good work, Lee.'
Whisper it gently.. he may have a way to go yet but Lee Grant, maybe, just may be the top keeper we've been looking for for so long.