Thursday, 28 May 2015

2014/15 Player assessments: Karl Darlow

Karl Darlow - back on loan after last summer's transfer to Newcastle Untied - held onto the goalie's jersey in 2014/15, despite strong competition from Dorus de Vries.

Academy product Darlow attracted criticism at times - probably not helped by his big move - but he was one of Forest's strongest players. It's impossible to say how many points his saves alone earned The Reds, but it was far more than any errors cost us.

An outstanding shot stopper, he has also developed a good sense of when to come out of goal, having been required to do so on many occasions this season, due to a defence low on confidence and often looking to their keeper for help.

The main criticism of Darlow is that he does not “command his box” – personally I only half understand what this even means; it smacks of being a lazy footballing cliché to me, similar to calling a manager “tactically naïve.” Should a 24 year old kid be “commanding” the likes of Kelvin Wilson and Michael Mancienne – experienced, high-profile players earning well over £50,000 per week between them?

Maybe I'm being facetious, but the point is that Darlow has been under more pressure this season, because the defenders often looked to him to rescue them instead of dealing with problems themselves. This is particularly true when defending crosses - sometimes causing Darlow to look like he was "not commanding his box." Forest have some expensive, experienced centre-backs who should be able to organise themselves and dominate in front of their goalkeeper, it ought not be just down to a youngster to command this area.

Possibly a mute point considering the unlikelihood of seeing Darlow in a Forest shirt again, I nevertheless looked at all of the goals Forest conceded which involved a high-cross in an attempt to attach blame to Darlow.

The Reds conceded 29 such goals last season, 25 against Darlow, 4 against de Vries. With Darlow this amounted to one every 160 minutes, compared to one every 95 minutes on average with the more experienced Dutchman in goal - suggesting Darlow's perceived weakness hasn't been especially detrimental.

Of all these 25 goals, I could only criticise Darlow on four occasions - two of which I am probably being a little harsh (the first Watford goal, and the second Cardiff goal, both at The City Ground) where I think he might have claimed these crosses if he'd have come.

He made two errors by coming for crosses and not clearing the danger, leading to goals. Against Brighton (away) he came out to punch the ball, missing it completely.

He also made poor contact when dealing with a cross during the Blackburn game (at home, see above) which led to a goal - but this occasion is a good example of my earlier point, the defenders were not dealing with crosses, having been bullied and outmanoeuvred by Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede.

On this occasion Darlow decided to come out and punch, probably because seconds earlier his defenders (Wilson and Mancienne) had been particularly lax in defending a long throw. He made minor contact with the ball diverting it away from Gestede (who would have scored having lost his marker) only to see it fall to Junior Baptiste, who scored.

It's harsh to say Darlow does not command his box. Even this season, when he has been lambasted at times, he has been reasonably reliable in dealing with crosses - he has needed to be, with Jack Hobbs absent for long periods The Reds defenders have been quite poor in the air.

Towards the end of the year we heard a lot of fans questioning why Forest were continuing to play Darlow, but the truth is that Forest were stronger with him in goal. They earned significantly more points per game, and it took them on average ten minutes longer to concede, which is quite a big difference.

In fact, the team has performed better with Darlow in goal during every season since his shock inclusion ahead of Lee Camp in 2012/13. Forest have conceded less goals, and collected more points, when the youngster has played.

It is difficult to say whether he'll be a success at Newcastle, but he has certainly earned a shot at a higher level, having been one of the better goalkeepers in The Championship for two years now.

Darlow is another of those academy products which have progressed faster than the club - hopefully we don't see too much more of this in the future, but unlike Partick Bamford at least we've gotten to see some of Darlow, and he has made a contribution before his departure. I think he'll fulfil his potential and get to the very top.

Thanks for reading. Statistics refer to the 2014/15 Championship campaign only - not cup games.