Watford have been blessed with fine goalkeepers.
Kevin Miller, David James, Alec Chamberlain, Bert Slater and Andy Rankin would go down as club greats at most other clubs but they all lag way behind Tony Coton in the legendary stakes at Vicarage Road. Few players to have worn the yellow shirt (or even the green goalkeeper’s jersey) command as much respect and affection as ‘TC’.
Coton has high standards when it comes to the art of goalkeeping but even the hard to please Brummie would have had to doff his cap to Ben Foster for some of the heroics he pulled off during his two-season spell at Vicarage Road between 2005 and 2007. He watched most of them on DVD in his role as goalkeeping coach at Manchester United. Foster’s performances at home to Wigan Athletic in the Premier League and away at Plymouth in the FA Cup will live long in the memory.
Foster was the last goalkeeper to win the club’s Player of the Season award, in 2007, and there was a lovely, fitting moment at full-time on Saturday when he embraced and hugged Heurelho Gomes at the final whistle. It was almost the passing of the great-Watford-goalkeeper baton, the anointing of the next goalkeeper to win the club’s top award. Most of all it was two blokes, fully paid-up members of the goalkeepers’ union, sharing a moment.
“‘You ledge,'” Ben said [to me at the end of the game],” said Gomes. “Yeah he said that. Ben is a great man, I like him as a goalkeeper and also as a person. He’s a brilliant person.”
Gomes isn’t bad either, not least because of the work he does for the Watford Community Trust which is famed. But what he’s paid to do is mind the goal and nobody is doing that better in the league right now – and that includes David De Gea.
Like a fine wine, the 35-year-old Gomes is getting better with age. “I feel loved again,” he said. “When the people at Watford did the support like they did, from the beginning, it’s great for the player. I find my place and I feel loved over here. Of course, the only thing I can do is have good games and help them. We know that in this league, if you play well from the back you concede less goals as you can. We need to be prepared. I’ve been prepared since I signed for Watford.”
You only have to see Gomes warm up to see how hard he trains and how well he prepares. Head of sports science Gianni Brignardello and goalkeeping coach Paolo De Toffol really put him through his paces in training and before a game. Jack Butland, the England and Stoke keeper, said affectionately on Goals on Sunday that: “We know how long he is. He’s got massive levers.” That’s largely because of the flexibility work he does. It’s why he was able to push off his left foot to save Saido Berahino’s first penalty on Saturday and then off his right to pull off an even better one to stop the second.
“[I took a step to the right first] to give him the gap, to give him my right,” said Gomes when discussing the first save or miss, depending on your viewpoint. “I normally don’t do that, I normally wait for him to decide, like I did with the second one. It was a spur of the moment thing, because we used to watch the takers but..they watch us as well. It was different and I try to do that to see what they will do. I went the other way on the second one. I just waited for him and pushed as hard as I could.”
Gomes said “I don’t know” if the first one was a penalty but, on reflection, who cares. “The most important thing was that I saved it,” he said. Hear, hear.
There was also a bit of mind games involved as the wily Gomes psyched out the 22-year-old forward.
“He’s a young player but he’s a very strong boy in his mind,” said Gomes. “Of course, I waited for him to decide on the second and you never expect a player to come and to do it again. No, I wasn’t happy to see Berahino step up to take the second penalty, not really, no. He has the quality to score as well, and the most important thing was me to be focused. I just said: “You again?”. I don’t know because I’m not that type of player but I just say that.”
Darren Bent knows how Berahino was feeling. He saw Gomes save two of his spot-kicks at the Stadium of Light in 2010 but Sunderland at least went onto win that game 3-1.
“This is a better feeling because of the result at the end of the game,” said Gomes. “The most important thing was our result. I’m there to help my team and I did it today but we need to encourage them in the situation like that. It was an important stage of the game. Of course it was a great feeling.”
Gomes’ son, Luiz, is a budding goalkeeper on the books of Watford and he has quite the highlights reel of his father to pore over and pick up some tips. Gomes has played out of his skin in games against Bournemouth and Chelsea in particular, but doesn’t feel this is the best period of his career. You can only wonder how good he was at his perceived peak then.
“No [this is not the best form of my career],” he said. “I had great form before. The season that we went to the Champions League with Spurs, four years with PSV, also with Cruzeiro, we won everything in that year. I believe it’s a good time for me, and also for the club.”
• Additional reporting by David Anderson