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In defence of Remi Matthews

We’re all allowed our own opinions - here’s mine.

Bolton Wanderers v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

August 2018, a 24 year old Remi Matthews joined Wanderers on an initial loan with a move set to be made permanent in January 2019. This would be the first time in his career that he would be moving away from Norwich, the club that he had grown up at, on a permanent basis.

After making his debut against Leeds in a narrow 2-1 defeat in the Carabao Cup just a few days after he joined the club, there were early signs that we had found a real talent. Remi went on to make three league appearances before his loan was terminated and the permanent deal was cancelled, much to the displeasure of the Wanderers fans. The way Remi was treated by certain people at the club during this time was frankly disgraceful. After moving himself and his young family over 200 miles to join Wanderers four/five months earlier, it seemed it was all over.

Just under a fortnight later, having started the moving process back to East Anglia, a deal was agreed with Norwich and Remi joined back up with Wanderers. It was here that he established himself as Bolton’s first choice keeper, making a consecutive fourteen league starts. Despite only the one clean sheet, there were times when Remi single-handedly prevented losses being even more embarrassing than they were.

The two more memorable would be both the Preston and Norwich defeats. When Norwich came to the UNIBOL last season, everyone expected a drubbing. They were flying high and playing great football. We may have been battered 4-0, but Matthews made a number of spectacular saves to prevent a higher scoreline. Including a penalty save from Kenny McLean.

Matthews was one of very few senior professionals that remained under contract over the summer. Despite interest from Championship and Premier League clubs, including being subject to a failed bid from Crystal Palace. Some people, will find it hard to praise some of those who remain at the club but decided to go on strike during the end of last season and the start of this campaign. Personally, I’ve drawn a line under it and firmly moved on. But, that is an argument for another day.

Whilst Wanderers were awaiting the takeover of the club, there were still games to be played. A young Bolton team were forced to play, it was during this period that we conceded 21 goals in just four games. The first clean sheet came against Oxford United at home. Keith Hill’s first home game in charge of Wanderers showed a lot of promise. A back four of Emmanuel, Hobbs, Wright and Chicksen looked assured in front of Matthews and the clean sheet was a welcomed sight. We started to see a huge difference in style of football. We were watching actual Bolton players playing out from defence.

Many would get on the back of Matthews for his poor distribution, but a goalkeeper could kick perfectly 23 out of 25 times in a game, but those two poor ones will be the only ones remembered.

The next six league games, Wanderers conceded only three goals, including a late penalty against Sunderland. It was during this spell of games that we lost our most impressive defender, Jack Hobbs. A 7-1 defeat to Accrington followed. A scoreline of this magnitude is always going to reflect poorly on the goalkeeper. But, Remi would be the first to know post-match during his personal analysis, if he could have done better with any goal he’s conceded.

Enough waffling, let’s get to why I wrote this.

Remi Matthews has faced 151 shots on target this season, the most of any other goalkeeper in the EFL, compared to matches played. With 94 saves made during a total of 26 matches, this averages at 3.6 per game. Only Nathan Trott of AFC Wimbledon has a higher average saves per game rate.

There have been many games this season that we have seen an array of world class saves from Matthews. Recently, we saw a brilliant performance away against Sunderland on Boxing Day. First, a save from a Chris Maguire free kick, tipping the ball round his left hand post. Then, denying Marc McNulty from the same range. A superb, acrobatic one handed save to stop the ball sailing into the top corner. See for yourself.

Just a few days later, Shrewsbury came to the UNIBOL. With the scores level and Wanderers down to ten men, Matthews ensured we gained a point from the game. A world class double save, which wouldn’t be out of place at the highest level. Again, see for yourself below.

Fast forward a month, he again keeps us in the game against Bristol Rovers with three crucial first half saves.

Let’s talk about this weekend...

The Coventry game was the perfect example of how Remi has become the scapegoat for any goal we concede. If someone tries to blame him for either goal this weekend, then it’s complete and utter nonsense. The first, the ball is given away on half way. Dabo travels about 50 yards unchallenged and Bakayoko finds himself totally unmarked in the box with a free header six yards from goal. So before we start to suggest why he’s not managed to save a header - which he has less than a second to react to - let’s criticise why he’s having to pick the ball out the back of the net less than eight seconds after having possession in their half.

The second Coventry goal is again, another example of terrible defending. Their attacker eases his way into the box, has a shot on goal which is blocked well but the second ball isn’t won. Ultimately falling at the feet of their fresh legged striker, six yards out who smashes the ball over Delaney’s foot and into the back of the net. There has been little mention of his superb kick downfield to Chris O’Grady to set up Politic’s equaliser, which reached the edge of Coventry’s box without bouncing and with pinpoint accuracy to find COG. But, there seems to have been more emphasis on his two conceded goals.

As someone who has played in goal in the past, not very well I should add. There is nothing more demoralising than having to pick the ball out of the back of the net, especially when you feel like you could have done something better, whether that be positionally or otherwise. These professionals go into training and spend time analysing their performance and will always be their own harshest critic.

The role of a goalkeeper is so different to any other position on the pitch. If a striker makes a mistake and misses a glaring one on one, it can be forgotten about and go under the radar. But, if a goalkeeper makes an error, the probability that it will lead to a goal conceded is almost a certainty. As Remi eluded to yesterday, “as a goalkeeper no matter how many goals you save, some people will only remember he one you missed.” The very thing that makes the position so difficult. He has also found himself to be the only senior goalkeeper at the club this season. There will have been times this season where some managers may have liked to rest him or changed it up, but due to Remi’s understudy being that of 17 year old Matty Alexander, the weight rests firmly on the elder’s shoulders.

There’s no denying that Remi hasn’t made mistakes whilst being at Bolton, but he’s a human being. Everyone is allowed to do so. It’s about learning from them and moving forward. But, I’m sure Remi would be the first to admit when he’s done something that he wasn’t happy with. He’s still a young goalkeeper. Statistically, he is still within the first third of his professional career, he has another ten years in the profession. He’ll go away, work on his mistakes and weaknesses in training and learn from them.

By all means, everyone is entitled to form their own opinions regarding individuals performances. To those that are angered by Matthews’ response to the criticism online, it’s worth putting yourself in his shoes and imagine receiving messages from people you’ve never met advising you and critiquing you on a job that they’ve never had. It’s bizarre to even comprehend and Remi’s response was totally human.

Anyway, I’ve gone on way too long. My personal view - Remi Matthews is doing a pretty damn decent job.

P.S. Happy Birthday Remi - let’s celebrate with three points and a clean sheet tomorrow at Doncaster.