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Best in their leagues: the numbers behind Ireland's in-form goalkeepers

Nobody has kept more clean sheets in their respective leagues than Irish ‘stoppers Mark Travers and Gavin Bazunu.

Mark Travers and Gavin Bazunu.
Mark Travers and Gavin Bazunu.

FOUR OF THE 10 Premier Division sides in the League of Ireland have signed goalkeepers on loan from the UK ahead of this season – perhaps these young tyros are coming to learn the traits of Ireland’s native genius for producing goalkeepers. 

Caoimhin Kelleher’s talents have been on display for everyone to see this month, but going slightly under the radar are the performances of his international team-mates, Gavin Bazunu and Mark Travers. 

Travers has kept the most clean sheets of any goalkeeper in the Championship, while Bazunu holds the same record for League One. 

Travers’ performances are impressive given the low from which he has rebounded. He looked nervous ahead of his first start against Serbia at the start of the World Cup qualifiers last March, was then caught off his line by Aleksander Mitrovic and dropped for the home game against Luxembourg three days later. 

He hasn’t played for Ireland since and is third-choice now, behind Bazunu and Kelleher. Travers has nonetheless forced his way into the Bournemouth team this season, starting all but one of their games in the Championship. 

“Big saves today, again”, said manager Scott Parker after 10-man Bournemouth eked out a 1-0 win against Barnsley to move within a point of the automatic promotion places with a game in hand. 

“That’s what you need to do as a goalkeeper. You need to be in the game for the big moments and Travs was. He pulled off some big saves for us.

“I’m very pleased with him overall and in his whole game. He has developed into a very good goalie and a very good person as well. I sense a presence about him now and he’s growing.”

Travers was excellent at the weekend, forced to make seven saves and making the all, the pick of them an instant reaction save at the feet of a Barnsley forward inside the six-yard box. 

It would be overstating Travers’ performances across the season to say he has been dazzling this season but he has been extremely solid, which – at the age of just 22 and at the top-end of the Championship – is no criticism. 

Travers has conceded 28 goals this season, from a total Expected Goals Conceded measurement of 28.74, which is a slight over-performance. His save percentage of 76% is the second-best in the division and his winning 80% of his aerial duels is slightly above the league average. 

If Bournemouth do return to the Premier League next season they should be confident in retaining Travers as their number one, given how effectively he has bounced back from his international experience. 

As to when Travers gets another chance with Ireland remains to be seen, he is firmly third-choice and the first-choice continues to perform. Gavin Bazunu has stepped up in League One by going to Portsmouth having been at Rochdale and has been less busy as a result. 

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He is facing one shot less per game this season as opposed to last term, but he is now slightly outperforming his Expected Goals Conceded metric (25 actual goals conceded versus 25.38 expected) as opposed to last season, where he actually underperformed in that department. 

That’s not to say he hasn’t been unworked: he has saved three-quarters of the shot he has faced this season, sometimes spectacularly. 

One slight frustration from an Irish point of view is that Bazunu has not been asked to pass out from his penalty area at Portsmouth as often as he is asked to do at international level – roughly hitting five goal kicks long for every one that goes short. 

Bazunu hasn’t been perfect this season either – he made a significant error in conceding in what proved to be a 4-1 hammering by Rotherham last October – but the mistake stands out because it’s so rare. 

Travers and Bazunu have another thing in common beyond their good form: both are shining in England having played for Shamrock Rovers, a club who recently saw another promising goalkeeper snaffled by an English club with the transfer of Killian Cahill to Brighton. 

Of Irish football’s abundant problems, producing goalkeepers is not one of them. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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