England goalkeeping situation looks cut and dried ahead of World Cup
Injury permitting, it’s a given that Manchester City goalie Joe Hart will be the England number one at the World Cup finals in Brazil.
He is massively odds-on at 1/50 with Coral to be in the 23-man squad selected by Roy Hodgson for the tournament and 1/8 to start the opening group game against Italy.
Ben Foster, who played under the Three Lions boss when he was in charge at West Bromwich Albion, has also been tempted back into the fold and is 2/5 to make the plane (but 6/1 to start the first match).
Former Manchester United custodian Foster has kept just two clean sheets, however, in an injury-interrupted season as the Baggies struggle to preserve Premier League status.
If odds are anything to go by, then Hodgson faces a straight choice between Celtic stopper Fraser Forster and Norwich City’s John Ruddy for the third and final keeper spot. Both are shorter than even-money at 4/7 and 10/11 respectively.
Neither Forster (10/1 to start against Italy) nor Ruddy have much to crow about when playing at elite level, though.
Granted, the former is guaranteed silverware at Celtic where – in the continued absence from the Scottish Premiership of Old Firm rivals Rangers – there is little competition, but his Champions League stats are much less impressive.
Forster is beaten on average once every two games in his domestic league, but that says more about Scotland’s top-flight as a barometer of quality than his own credentials.
In the group stage of elite European competition this term, however, he conceded a mean of more than twice per match (six in 14 or two-and-a-third per outing).
Canaries keeper Ruddy, meanwhile, posts the poorest league average of any goalie remotely close to the senior England setup. Despite keeping clean sheets in a third (10 in 30) of Premier League games this term, he also has the third-worst defence in the division playing in front of him.
As Norwich have seen 48 goals fly into their own net – while their forwards have toiled to score half that total – that means Ruddy has let in 1.6 per match.
On the plus side, he has made the second-most saves of any English top-flight stopper (93). Hart, for example, has only been called into action just over half (60 per cent) as often (56 attempts kept out).
It would be bold of the dependably cautious Hodgson to cast aside these options so close to the World Cup finals in favour of a second-tier goalie. Homegrown talent aplenty is given a forum in the Championship.
Five of the 15 English keepers that have played 10 matches or more in this division have either been capped or received senior Three Lions call-ups. Chief among those is Blackburn Rovers’ Paul Robinson, who was first-choice under Sven-Goran Eriksson at the 2006 World Cup.
After a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a niggling back problem and a blood clot, Robinson has declared himself open to an invitation from Hodgson to return to the international fold.
He was ditched, however, when England failed to qualify for Euro 2008, and fans have long memories. Robinson made high-profile errors just like Wigan Athletic stopper Scott Carson.
The sacking of Owen Coyle and Uwe Rosler’s successful start to life as Latics boss has seen Carson in and out of the XI at the DW Stadium. He is a 40/1 outside shot to be in Brazil. QPR custodian Rob Green also made it into football bloopers reels with his howler at the last World Cup.
Green has kept clean sheets in almost half of his matches (16 in 35) this season, conceding 28 (an average of 1.25 per game), but a cracked rib may have put pay to his hopes. He is 25/1 with Coral to recover and earn a recall.
This tournament looks to have come too soon for 14/1 chance Jack Butland, who has had spells at Barnsley and Leeds United on loan from Stoke City, and another 25/1 shot in Reading stopper Alex McCarthy.
Punters can expect the established order of Hart and Foster, plus either Forster or Ruddy, to be Hodgson’s options between the sticks for England in Brazil.