Is Barnet’s Josh Keeley This Season’s Harry Smith? – Opinion

Just over two months ago, Barnet announced the loan signing of Tottenham Hotspur and Ireland under-21 international goalkeeper Josh Keeley.

Fans were instantly intrigued by the signing as Keeley was a player good enough to go on Spurs’ preseason tours but fan favourite Laurie Walker just seemed to be hitting his best form.

The Keeley vs Walker has become reminiscent of the debate fans had about Harry Smith and Nicke Kabamba at this time last year. A short-term loan signing who was not going to remain at the club beyond the end of the season was compromising the form of somewhat of a cult hero who had a longer contract with the club.

Outlining the Strengths and Weaknesses Of The Two Goalkeepers

Firstly, it is important to highlight the tremendous performances Laurie Walker has put in since joining the club at the start of the 22/23 season.

He has made 87 appearances for the Bees and the 34-year-old has pulled off a number of remarkable saves in that time, almost singlehandedly winning the team three points numerous times, especially in the early parts of last season.

At the time he was replaced, Walker had the joint most clean sheets in the Vanarama National League; he still lies in sixth place on that list today. Three of those clean sheets came in the three games prior to him being replaced and it looked like a notoriously inconsistent Barnet defence was about to start another good run.

However, it was clear that the former Stevenage goalkeeper was not hitting the same heights that he did last season.

As Dean Brennan adapted the way in which his team played in order to secure more possession, Walker was required to do more sweeping and play out from the back more often than not. This exposed some of the weaknesses in his game and the loss of confidence he had after making errors when sweeper keeping had a negative effect on his shot-stopping as well.

Keeley was signed with a big reputation, but little to no experience in senior men’s football.

The generational difference between him and Walker is obvious. The loanee is much more adept at playing out from the back under pressure and even his long balls seem to be more accurate than Walker’s.

Furthermore, he is much more confident in coming off his line in order to intercept long balls over the top of the Barnet defence, who have been playing an extremely high line this season. Walker’s weaknesses are very much his strengths.

But, Keeley’s lack of experience has shown, especially against Wealdstone where, after a near faultless game, a lapse in concentration allowed Barnet’s fiercest rivals to nick a point at the death.

Dean Brennan’s Problem

Dean Brennan has put himself in a tough position when it comes to choosing between the two goalkeepers.

Keeley will likely be called up by the Ireland under-21s later this month and that will mean Walker will be needed for at least one more game this season.

This could pose a big problem for Brennan: what does he do if Laurie puts in one of the outstanding performances we all know he is capable of?

The last thing this makeshift Barnet defence needs when trying to find some consistency is a different man behind them every week, but that will be what happens (at least for the weeks around the international matches) and this could significantly impact their ability to keep the ball out of the net.

Who Should Be First-Choice For The Rest Of The Season?

Both keepers clearly have their strengths and weaknesses. Walker is a traditional, old-fashioned goalkeeper who will keep the ball out of the net, but not do much more. Keeley’s ball-playing ability is very useful to the Bees when going forward and he also has a remarkable command of his area for someone so young.

Due to the way that Barnet are playing this season (a possession-based game with a high defensive line), Keeley should be starting for the rest of the season. He is still a top shot-stopper and the only way to get the mistakes out of his game is by giving him more experience in match situations.

Is Josh Keeley This Seasons’ Harry Smith?

Though Keeley and Smith both broadly created the same situation, Keeley is not this season’s Harry Smith in pure footballing terms.

His arrival has clearly created debate amongst fans who are upset that one of their favourite players is no longer in the team. But, unlike Smith, who was an outstanding player but not really suited to the style of football the Bees were playing, Keeley only aids Barnet stylistically and learning how to incorporate a ball-playing sweeper keeper could be what this team needs to take it to the next level.

Beyond This Season

Walker and Keeley deserve to be first-choice goalkeepers next season, but it would be surprising if either of them were at Barnet.

Keeley certainly will not stay in the fifth division after he put in the performances he has and even a promotion to the Football League may not be enough for Spurs to loan him back to Barnet.

Depending on whether they get promoted, Peterborough United, who have links with Barnet and a recent history of trusting young goalkeepers, could be a good destination for the youngster.

As for Walker, the fact that he has only had one full season as a first-choice goalkeeper in the National League is ludicrous. He should have no problem finding another club at this level.

Obviously, this leaves Dean Brennan’s side without a recognised senior goalkeeper going into next season, but this should not be a worrying sign for Bees fans given the Irishman’s track record with recruitment.

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