Spotlight: Nervous Nyland – Watch Like A Hawk-Eye

Villa haven’t had a great amount of good fortune when it has come to goalkeepers.

Indeed, as Villa fans we have seen it all between the sticks.

From the infamy of Peter Enckelman’s career defining howler at St. Andrews to Gábor Király’s insistence upon wearing jogging bottoms.  We also watched on as David ‘Calamity’ James’ career was rehabilitated at Villa Park, only for him to drop a monumental clanger in the 2000 FA Cup Final defeat to Chelsea.  The list, undoubtedly, could go on.

And so it was, just a mere forty minutes into Project Restart as Villa hosted Sheffield United, the VillaVerse momentarily stopped spinning.

Mouths dropped open.  Households fell silent.  The footballing world’s eyes glazed over as a collective.

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This was of course the moment that Norwegian international goalkeeper Ørjan Nyland found himself bundled beyond the line, carried over it by the momentum of Keinan Davis (himself appearing to be nudged & then carry his momentum toward the goal).

As the implosion of the VillaVerse seemed imminent, Nyland looked on from within the side netting, smothering the now invisible football back onto the post.

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Harnessing his new-found powers of illusion, given away only by the look of bewilderment upon his own face, the ball was now expertly moved onto the correct side of the goal-line.  It was a graceful demonstration of sleight of hand performed before a global audience.

Match referee Michael Oliver, momentarily afflicted by blindness, referred to his V-Tech Peppa Pig watch.  “Blindly Wave Away The Protests” it instructed.  Oliver, dutifully and calmly waved away the protests.

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This was of course the technology failure of Hawk-Eye, a once in 9000 occurrance and naturally it would occur at Villa Park.

Of course it would occur whilst the world was watching Premier League football emerge under scrutiny, post Covid lockdown.

And of course, it would involve Ørjan Nyland.

Nyland’s Villa career has been challenging to say the least so far.

A ‘quiet and reserved family man‘, he struggled badly following a transfer from German side FC Ingolstadt.

His struggles, in The Villa Underground’s view at least, have been a three factor problem.

Firstly, Nyland was afforded little or no protection behind a Villa defence and side that on occasion even featured five right backs under Bruce.  We were woefully unbalanced at the back in 2018.  He quickly struggled to inspire confidence at a time when Villa desperately needed an assured figure in goal.

A series of decidedly shaky performances resulted in the 29 year old getting unceromoniously dropped in October 2018.  This included poor errors that cost Villa wins away at Bristol City and Ipswich Town, just to name two that come to mind.  It left Villa needing to use Mark Bunn, having discovered that on-loan Athetico Madrid ‘keeper André Moreira was a total non-starter.

Secondly, Nyland suffered a bad achilles injury during training (January 2019) that sidelined him for a significant period.  This prompted Villa to recall Jed Steer from loan and establish himself as a viable starter, not just a mere back up.  Additionally, with Villa’s promotion, the club acted swiftly to strengthen, snapping up England international Tom Heaton when he was made available by Burnley.  Suddenly, he was third choice.

Finally, the Norwegian looks to be a classic ‘confidence’ player, but also still suffers from indecision.  Whilst he started his Villa career rooted to his line, he has since visibly developed his style, presumably under the tutorage of Neil Cutler.

However, we saw in the second half of the Sheffield United draw, likely with the first half error in his mind, a flapping attempt to collect the ball amongst a crowd.  It was a mistake that would get punished by more clinical sides.

This blog has always been constructive in it’s criticism on Nyland, and whilst certainly tongue in cheek on occasions (on the podcast and social media), it does feel important to emphasise his qualities and overall improvement.

As mentioned above, his positional sense has improved markedly.  Upon arriving at Villa Park Nyland appeared to struggle with the physicality of The Championship.  This was something that stood in contrast to his own physical presence and caused all manner of failings when attempting to collect crosses or when opting to remain on his line.

In terms of shot stopping and his ability to make acrobatic finger tip saves, there is much to like.

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Nyland’s outstanding performance in the Carabao Cup against Leicester jumps out for a number of excellent stops, but also for the fact that it is fresh in the memory.  It was though and outstanding display.  There were also a number of occasions where his saves and reaction time illustrate his underlying quality, examples including a 90th minute penalty save to win at Swansea (December 2018) and a double-save against Reading (August 2018) being particularly noteworthy:

The Hawk-Eye debacle is actually less about Nyland and how basic in-game decisions are now confused between officials and layers of ill-deployed technology.  Did the ball cross the line?  Yes.  Did it require Hawk-Eye to determine that? No.  Did Davis’ bundling into Nyland (whether fouled or otherwise) play a part?  Possibly.

What we can only hope for Nyland is that this doesn’t impact his confidence or his rehabilitation at our goalkeeper.  If anything, this can be used to instil a lazer like focus into his game, the fashion he adopts when making the types of saves that require judging, agility and concentration to achieve.

Villa’s survival might rely upon more than just Nyland’s form, but with Heaton out for the season, the necessity for him to remain error free will be more important than at any other point in his Villa career to date.

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