I hope you are all getting excited for the start of the new season in the Championship, it promises to be another special one. What people that aren’t so familiar with the league might be surprised about is the quality of the players within the Championship. I’m already doing my best to bring attention to some of those players.
However, my content has generally focused on those attacking areas with a spotlight on goals and assists. It’s important to remember that the attacking side is only part of the picture for a successful Championship team. Simply put, the defensive part of the game cannot be ignored.
So, for my next two articles, there will be a focus on goalkeepers and defenders. For this one, we are looking at the best shot stoppers that you will find outside of the Premier League. This is based on a combination of opinion, stats, and other factual information. The ranking order here shouldn’t be considered as it’s up to you to decide who is the best goalkeeper in the league.
So, now we have that out of the way, let’s get stuck into the options…
1. John Ruddy (Wolves)
Some fans have been surprised that Norwich City elected to not renew John Ruddy’s contract. Sound football wisdom suggests that every successful team needs a top quality experienced goalkeeper. Ruddy certainly fits that as a player who has played in the Premier League, Championship, and even played for England – and he is still only 30 years old.
The Canaries simply felt that they couldn’t justify the salary needed to retain the 6ft4 shot stopper. Injuries have also played their part in his career and some people feel he is not as good as he used to be because of that. There is no doubt that on his day his qualities are right up there with the best, he also organises his defence well and has great leadership qualities.
I would think that big John would love another shot at the Premier League before his career is finished. Wolves also look to be a club that are prepared to splash a bit of cash around this summer. Ruddy certainly won’t let them down in the coming season – but I’m expecting Wolves to fall short in other areas – as another season of struggle appears to be on the cards.
2. Angus Gunn (Norwich City)
Although this isn’t by design, we are moving from one former Norwich City goalkeeper to the man that is likely to replace him. Angus Gunn has a famous name due to being the son of Bryan Gunn. Bryan is probably one of greatest goalkeepers the Canaries have ever had and goes down as a true legend, despite his less legendary spell as Norwich manager for a short stint.
Angus has a lot to live up to, but he is a great goalkeeper in his own right. The shot-stopper was part of youth system in Norfolk and looked to have a bright future with the club. However, he ended up moving to Manchester City – he is a long way down the pecking order there, but certainly has impressed when given the opportunity. There is certainly a feeling in Manchester that the player could well have a big future in the Premier League – but they want Angus to gain experience before all of that.
Therefore, he is back at Carrow Road on loan for the season. Let’s be clear though this isn’t about being sentimental and there is a real feeling that Angus Gunn will be a goalkeeper to watch in the Championship this season. Of course, he is not automatically going to be the first choice with Northern Irish goalkeeper Michael McGovern also in the building. Nevertheless, there is a strong feeling in Norfolk that youth is going to get their chance to shine this season.
3. Ali Al Habsi (Reading)
A lot of people were surprised and impressed with what Reading managed to do in the Championship last season. There wasn’t a great feeling that they would be competing well in the league ahead of the campaign. However, the Royals were heavily involved in the promotion picture before they eventually lost out to Huddersfield in the play-off final.
Successful teams need a strong core and players that really deliver in key positions. What’s interesting about Reading is they don’t rely exclusively on young players, and really appreciate the value of having some experienced heads in the team. Their shot stopper is a prime example of exactly that, Ali Al Habsi is a vastly experienced player and has shown his quality in the Premier League with the likes of Bolton and Wigan.
Who Scored data is quite clear that the 35-year-old was the best goalkeeper in the Championship last season. The Oman international has won 118 caps for his country and showed his quality time after time during the season. In fact, his performances in the play-offs against Fulham and Huddersfield very nearly played a massive part in getting Reading to the Premier League. However, the Royals fell short at the final hurdle, as we know, – but Ali Al Habsi will be looking to have another big season in the Championship.
4. Daniel Bentley (Brentford)
Brentford aren’t a team that are talked about a lot – but they have quite a bit going for them. The young and hungry squad they have along with a decent British manager are things that few clubs in the Championship have managed to get right. This is why I am tipping them to be a team to watch in the coming season.
As mentioned, there are several very talented young players in their squad that are certainly worth keeping an eye on. The attacking talent they have at their disposal such as Sergi Canos and Jota tends to garner most of the attention. However, their young goalkeeper, Daniel Bentley is another one that deserves his fair share of praise.
It's hardly a secret that England struggles to produce quality shot stoppers, so his value could well be significant in a few years. Bentley started his career in League Two with Southend United and gained a lot of experience playing at that level. Since then, he has been making his mark in the Championship playing the whole campaign last season. There are other goalkeepers that will get more attention, but this 23-year-old is certainly making waves in the game.
5. David Stockdale (Birmingham City)
Even before a ball was kicked in anger last season, Brighton were one of the favourites to achieve promotion – so it didn’t come as a massive surprise when they achieved that. However, players have to perform in order for these things to happen – and no one is going to doubt that their best players certainly turned up when it mattered.
When it was revealed that David Stockdale’s contract was running down as the season came to an end, it certainly raised a few eyebrows. It’s unknown whether it was the player or the club that were most reluctant to extend things. However, Stockdale certainly showed over the course of the season what a good goalkeeper he is.
So, when it was announced that he would be joining Birmingham City on a free transfer; it certainly suggests that the club are looking to be more than being relegation candidates in the coming season. The Blues will certainly be gaining a goalkeeper that has broad experience of both the Championship and the Premier League. It would certainly be a massive surprise if Stockdale wasn’t again one of the leading shot stoppers in the Championship for next season.
6. Kieren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)
Sheffield Wednesday have suffered the lower leagues of English football for years, but they now seem to be on their way back. Most people would consider Wednesday an established Championship team and they will be expected to be in the top six again next season. The club have managed to qualify for the play-offs in the last two consecutive seasons – but fallen down on each occasion.
There is some real quality in the squad though, which deserves Premier League football in the near future. A lot of the players that will get that attention play in attacking positions – but goalkeeper Kieren Westwood is certainly a top performer for them. In fact, many neutral fans would consider him to be the best shot stopper playing at Championship level.
It seems that Westwood has been playing the game forever – but he is still only 32, so his career has some time to go yet. I personally really remember him making a name for himself at Coventry City, and it’s a great shame that his career went backwards due to not getting regular game time at Sunderland. However, he has now made over 400 career appearances and won 21 caps for Ireland – and it would be a great surprise if he doesn’t have another stellar season. Check the Championship betting odds here.
This completes the end of the content section of this article. I’m expecting this one to be lively as there will be a view about the players that have made the cut and the ones that have not. So, which goalkeepers should be included that have not been?
Of course, if you enjoy my list-style Championship articles then please keep an eye on my profile page for the latest content. It will certainly be interesting to see if these goalkeepers get talked about during the course of the season – and the fun will begin very shortly.