Since Darren Randolph’s final game for Middlesbrough – at Loftus Road where the Irishman conceded twice in a draw with QPR – the search for Boro’s next goalkeeper has been happening, both behind the scenes at Rockliffe Park and on the football fields of the Championship.
Homegrown shot-stopper Ainsley Pears look set to be the man to take on the gloves full time as he impressed while deputising for Randolph in during the latter end of 2019.
The trust placed in the Durham-born ‘keeper by then manager Jonathan Woodgate only wained at the tailend of his innings as Middlesbrough’s head coach.
This came after a run of three consecutive 1-0 defeats, with the last straw for the former Middlesbrough and Real Madrid defender being a last minute mistake against Nottingham Forest, where Lewis Grabban was able to hold off the stopper and flick the ball into the net with ease.
Then it was the turn of January signing Dejan Stojanovic, who arrived from Swiss outfit St Gallen, to put on the gloves for Boro. Stojanovic starred in his debut against Charlton in the final game before lockdown hit the EFL, but struggled for consistency under Neil Warnock following the resumption of the league.
The North Macedonian goalkeeper was capable of pulling off incredible saves, like a super left handed stop to deny Matt Smith putting Millwall into the lead, before Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher gave Boro a 2-0, being counteracted by conceding three goals to Bristol City the following match, which included a shot from Jamie Paterson beating Stojanovic at his near post.
Warnock wants change
One of Neil Warnock’s primary targets this summer was to bring in a new goalkeeper to bolter Boro’s ranks, with names like Dillion Phillips from Charlton and Fulham’s Marcus Bettinelli being linked with moves.
According to Sky Sports reporter Keith Downie, Bettinelli is set for a medical on Wednesday 9th September ahead of a season long loan move for the stopper, in what would be Bettinelli’s fourth loan move away from Craven Cottage, and first since 2014.
The six-foot-four goalkeeper made 103 appearances across 10 years with The Cottagers, and was their ‘number one’ for their promotion in 2018, before Sergio Rico replaced him as starting ‘keeper in the Premier League.
Bettinelli was restored to his spot between the sticks following relegation in 2019, and Rico’s subsequent move to Spanish side Sevilla, but his return wouldn’t last long.
Should Boro bet on Bettinelli?
During Fulham’s opening 14 games to the 2019/20 season, Bettinelli kept four clean sheets and conceded 16 goals. This lead to former Rotherham loanee and fellow academy graduate Marek Rodak taking over from the Camberwell-born Bettinelli.
These worrying numbers were backed up by the feeling amongst the Fulham fans, as many were calling for Bettinelli to be dropped, with some blaming him for the poor shots-to-goal ratio and for the mistakes he made in crucial matches.
Transfer Tavern article highlighted the feeling of many fans towards Bettinelli after he flapped at a cross in an early season matchup with West Brom and Semi Ajayi would tap in from a yard out. Tweets posted after the final whistle ranged from “DROP BETTS” and “Can we drop Betts now” to “Betts needs to be dropped, absolutely useless keeper.”
Bettinelli would be dropped from Scott Parker’s Fulham side, but not before Rodak received a red card 17 minutes into his first league start for his parent club at the Riverside Stadium. Parker turned to his number one and Bettinelli managed to keep Woodgate’s side at bay for the remaining 73 minutes.
Fulham blog Hammyend.com detailed Rodak’s rise to starting goalkeeper in a recent post and wrote how the Slovakian international “Overcame that setback to keep a clean sheet as Fulham clung on for victory at Birmingham and then kept the Whites in the local derby against QPR… with a string of fine saves before Aboubakar Kamara’s brace turned the tie around.”
Is this move a mistake?
While this may sound like Middlesbrough are making a poor decision in choosing to add Bettinelli to a squad with two possible starting shot-stoppers, adding a player who has pedigree at this level as well as not having to shell out on a transfer fee during this cash-tight covid era could prove clever business and an important stop-gap while Boro look to consolidate under Neil Warnock.
Sky Sports’ piece on Marek Rodak, however, may give more hope to the Bettinelli business as they claim “It was not that Bettnelli was performing poorly. The number of goals he had conceded in those opening months of the season were inline with the models expected given shots faced.
“But as soon as Rodak took over, that changed. He kept out shots that he should not have been able to stop.”
So for Middlesbrough fans wondering what to expect when Bettinelli pulls on the – rather garish – goalkeeping jersey, perhaps don’t think that he will be making outstanding, unbeliveable saves to the level that Darren Randolph was during his time on Teesside, but expect an improvement in ablity for Boro’s starting ‘keeper.