Top goalkeepers who made a mark in Hero ISL 2018-19
In a day and age where outfield players, primarily offensive ones, are given the utmost importance, the role of goalkeepers is often overlooked. However, the last guards of a side can, more often than none, shape the team's fortunes in not just individual matches but entire competitions. The Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 edition was, perhaps, a perfect example. For instance, eventual winners Bengaluru FC boasted a tight defence throughout the season but from time to time, even they found themselves overwhelmed by the opposition offensive. In dire times like these, the team had to rely on some inspirational performances of custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to bail them out. The Golden Glove award at the end of the season bears just a token testimony of Gurpreet's immense contributions to Bengaluru's title-winning campaign.
The rest of the bunch were equally important to their team’s cause, doing their part which eventually had a big say in where their respective units finished on the table. Here, we list down the five top shot-stoppers from the recently concluded Hero ISL 2018-19 season.
1. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu - Bengaluru FC
The Bengaluru custodian had a memorable season, winning both the title and the Golden Glove award. Sandhu played in all but one match for Bengaluru, keeping seven clean-sheets and allowing just 19 goals against him in 20 outings. The India international made 61 saves - the second-highest tally for the season. Sandhu’s enormous and accurate goal-kicks were also an important part of Bengaluru’s strategy, wherein they would utilize the 27-year-old’s long clearances to send Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh in behind the opposition defence, allowing them to move up the field quickly in face of high pressing from the opposition.
2. Amrinder Singh - Mumbai City FC
The 25-year-old had, arguably, one of the finest campaigns of his career and challenged Gurpreet for the Golden Glove till the very end. He made a league-high 66 saves from 19 matches, earning seven clean sheets. Mumbai’s style of play involved soaking up the pressure from the opposition and trying to hit back through counter attacks. The strategy required Amrinder to be on his toes at all times and often weather sustained spells of opposition pressure. His sharp reflexes and ability to handle the ball under pressure helped in that and greatly aided the Islanders’ ability to fend off threats from set-pieces. Amrinder had a healthy 74.15% save percentage and let in just 23 goals from 19 matches.
3. Pawan Kumar - NorthEast United FC
The Highlanders qualified for the semi-finals for the first time in their history after a fantastic league campaign where they conceded the least number of goals (18). Pawan was in goal for a majority of NorthEast's matches. Despite not possessing the typical big frame associated with goalkeepers, the 28-year-old showed brilliant anticipation and technical abilities and was a revelation between the sticks for NorthEast. He made 35 saves from 16 matches, keeping six clean-sheets. His 68.01% passing accuracy was more than that of both Gurpreet and Amrinder.
4. Naveen Kumar - FC Goa
After finding it tough to displace Dheeraj Singh in the Blasters goal, Naveen made the switch back to his old club, FC Goa, in the January window hoping to get more game-time. At the time of the move, it looked unlikely since Mohammed Nawaz was in fine form but an injury to the 19-year-old prompted Sergio Lobera to draft Naveen straight into the starting XI. A host of splendid performance soon helped him establish himself as Lobera's first-choice goalkeeper. The 29-year-old adapted brilliantly to the demands of playing in the Goa goal, showing no nerves when having the ball at his feet. Although he missed out on the title, Naveen would still look back on the season with some good memories. He kept four clean-sheets in all from 13 matches, letting in just 15 goals, and made 34 saves.
5. Kamaljit Singh - FC Pune City
The Stallions only found their feet towards the end of the season under new head coach Phil Brown, but the damage had already been done by then. Several reasons contributed towards their early season falter, but the most glaring of them all was a leaky defence. A disorganised backline in the first half of the season miserably exposed goalkeeper Kamaljit, who for his part, did extremely well to paper over the cracks. Despite playing just 14 matches, the 23-year-old made 59 saves- the third-highest tally in the division. His save percentage was a whopping 74.68. He did keep only two clean-sheets and conceded 20 goals in his 14 outings - numbers which may not seem very impressive on the surface. However, to put his performances in context, Vishal Kaith, the other Pune goalkeeper who played the Stallions' remaining matches, conceded 10 goals in four.