This article is part of Football League World’s ‘The Verdict‘ series, which provides personal opinions from the FLW writers regarding the latest breaking news, teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Birmingham City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge has failed to make a single league appearance for the Blues so far this season.
This has been due to the Philippines international’s battle with Covid-19, which hospitalised him in July before being discharged and allowed to recover at home.
In the midst of this goalkeeping dilemma at St Andrew’s, with Andres Prieto’s contract being cancelled and the club seemingly wanting to loan out Zach Jeacock, leaving Connal Trueman as the next available option between the sticks, manager Lee Bowyer moved quickly in bringing Wolverhampton Wanderers shot-stopper Matija Sarkic in on trial.
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After assessing the Montenegro international’s capabilities, with the 24-year-old spending last season at third-tier outfit Shrewsbury Town, the Championship side decided to tie him down to a season-long loan deal.
He has been a much-needed asset in the Blues’ starting 11, with Etheridge still working his way back up to full fitness and the club taking precautions over his availability despite playing him in the Carabao Cup.
In a latest update from goalkeeping coach Andy Marshall though, he revealed to Birmingham Live that the absentee is closing in on a return and could be involved in the squad as early as next Friday, when they make the short journey to The Hawthorns to take on West Bromwich Albion.
Should he regain Sarkic’s place automatically though after seeing his side conceded heavily against the likes of Fulham, Peterborough United and Nottingham Forest last month?
We asked three of our writers at Football League World for their verdict on this key question.
It all depends on his fitness to be honest, as usually I would say he’s one of the first names on the team sheet.
Sarkic is a player who will want to be playing regularly, so it could be a bit harsh to drop him from the team.
Add to the fact that Wolves will be expecting him to play every game and things could quite easily unravel for Birmingham.
Etheridge’s experience is hard to ignore though and for that reason you have to feel Bowyer will stick him in sooner or later.
These are the decisions that can make or break a season.
I think it’s really tough to say.
He’s a top goalkeeper is Etheridge but then Sarkic has shown plenty of good signs himself in recent matches and has a decent record in terms of clean sheets already this season.
This sort of competition for the number one spot can only be a good thing for the Blues, though, and I think we’ll see them spur one another on as the campaign progresses.
I think eventually we will see Etheridge come back into the side but Sarkic may get the chance to keep his spot for now and, who knows, if he can raise his performances and displays further in the coming weeks perhaps he’ll keep himself in the side.
It is a difficult one because no goalkeeper in the division has kept more clean sheets than Matija Sarkic and he is proving to be a decent enough option for the goalkeeping position in this Birmingham side.
However, Neil Etheridge is a fantastic goalkeeper at this level. He is one of the best shot-stoppers, if not the best in the division, and he is also comfortable with the ball at his feet.
Sarkic has not done anything to deserve being dropped, instead, Etheridge’s quality and ability would lead me towards starting him instead.
Given what has happened to him over the last few months, it may take a while for him to adapt to first-team football, but I am sure that he will once again emerge as Birmingham’s first-choice keeper as the season progresses.