Tom Heaton is likely to be the difference between a precarious Premier League position and a strong one this season.
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Aston Villa have been a bit unlucky in their games against Palace and Bournemouth – a freak penalty and a deflection against Bournemouth, followed by a cataclysmic refereeing display from Kevin Friend, have left Deane Smith’s men a few points worse off than they will feel they should have been after the first four games of the season.
Granted, a clinical win against Everton saw the Villa beneficiaries of a touch of luck themselves, but having put in a spirited display against Spurs only to come agonisingly short, by about 8 minutes, of a point will leave Villa fans thinking that they haven’t quite had things swing their way just yet.
But all of those games have been typified by a couple of things. Mingles (Mings and Engels) have been formidable, and John McGinn is doing John McGinn things in midfield.
However, every game Tom Heaton has made at least one brilliant save. Against Spurs he forced an incredible save in the run up to Spurs’ equaliser – unluckily it didn’t count for more. Another great save against Christian Eriksen’s free kick. A good stop from Harry Wilson against Bournemouth to keep Villa in the game in the first half. A save at long range from Luka Milivojević when Villa went down to ten men.
A Safe Pair of Hands
Looking at the goalkeepers from the clubs in the bottom five at the minute, Heaton really has the joint highest “saves per shots faced” rate of 68%:
- 68% – Tom Heaton and Tim Krul
- 64% – Rui Patricio
- 62% – Ben Foster and Aaron Ramsdale
- 59% – Mathew Ryan
The margins are tight, but if Heaton keeps this rate up he would save four goals more than Patricio over 100 shots. However, that is purely speculative and academic.
Heaton is about middle of the pack for expected goals conceded per match:
- Tim Krul – 2.25
- Ben Foster – 1.84
- Tom Heaton – 1.51
- Aaron Ramsdale – 1.41
- Rui Patricio – 1.38
- Mathew Ryan – 1.36
This doesn’t exactly relate to the difficulty of shots which each keeper has faced, but it is more of a barometer for how much each keeper is having to work. For example, Tim Krul has faced more expected goals, and has the same save ratio as Heaton, but he has still conceded 4 more goals than Heaton.
Distribution Could Improve
Heaton is an excellent shot stopper, that’s why his transfer created such a stir amongst Burnley fans when he came to Villa Park. However, a veteran from the goalkeeping world of yesteryear, Heaton isn’t quite so masterful with the ball at his feet.
His mistake against Bournemouth was out of character, but costly nevertheless. Looking to his passing, he has to improve on a 52% accuracy with his long-passing. Out of the five goal keepers in the bottom five after this first four games, only Aaron Ramsdale has a worse figure. It does of course require better hold up play from Villa’s forwards, but I think most Villa fans would agree that Heaton’s long ball hasn’t been his biggest strength.
That being said, he does have one of the highest in terms of short-pass accuracy at 96% – and let’s face it, that is probably the most important accuracy when comparing long-passing versus short-passing.
Margins Could Pay Off
Tom Heaton’s job is to keep as many goals out of Aston Villa’s net as possible. He only needs to provide a few more saves than his rivals at this level and it will give Aston Villa a much better chance at having a successful season.
Last season, the number of goals conceded which separated 18th and 14th place in the Premier League was 10 goals – and a mid-table team has to make about 150 saves per season, based on 2018/19. So, if Tom Heaton can preserve his 4% better save rate than second place save rate rival, Rui Patricio, Heaton will save about six more goals than Patricio over the course of the season. And at that rate, 68%, he would save 13 more goals than Matt Ryan, as well as saving between eight-to-nine more shots than Ben Foster and Aaron Ramsdale in 2019/20.
There’s still so much work for Heaton to do, and high standards to keep. But reflecting on an unlucky start to the season so far, still in such an early stage of the campaign, Tom Heaton has shown promise in moments of brilliance that could start turning into results for Aston Villa.
“If there is one certainty in soccer, it is this: The quickest road to becoming a winning soccer team is to have a great goalkeeper.”Julie Foudy, Two-time Women’s World Cup Champion with the United States.