After his injury and the arrival of Lovre Kalinic and subsequently Tom Heaton, Orjan Nyland probably thought he’d never play senior football for Aston Villa again.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
After suffering a ruptured Achilles at the start of January last season during training, just as Lovre Kalinic had arrived to provide much-needed competition for the Norwegian, Ørjan Nyland likely thought his Aston Villa career would be coming to an end.
Not just because of the injury – but with the heroics of Jed Steer, promotion to the Premier League and then subsequent arrival of Tom Heaton all playing large factors in Nyland’s future at the club, it looked like the road to recovery was going to end with a place on the bench or regular appearances for the Under 23 side.
Ørjan’s 23 appearances for Aston Villa last season, in truth, provided mixed emotions. The goalkeeper took time to get used to the pace of English football, often making mistakes – and didn’t look confident behind a makeshift defence consisting of three fullbacks in the back four. He did make a number of exceptional saves, however, as well as a great penalty stop to deny Wilfried Bony against Swansea City.
The ‘keeper, who signed from Ingolstadt last summer under the tenure of Steve Bruce, returned to training this summer after undergoing and recovering from surgery, before making a handful of appearances for the youth sides and sitting out Carabao Cup games via the bench.
It wasn’t just his injury that proved to be a test for Nyland either, with the keeper largely ostracised on social media for a number of his mistakes in the Sky Bet Championship season – and these comments continued well into the Norway international’s rehabilitation.
“Consistent negativity can have a real impact on a goalkeeper,” says Villa goalkeeping coach Neil Cutler.
“Ørjan has great potential – he has two great feet, he’s athletic, agile and strong – and was just finding consistency with some excellent performances before he got injured.”
This past weekend, Ørjan Nyland made his first senior appearance for the club in almost a year – with his last game coming against Preston in late December 2018. Not only that, but he made his Premier League debut too.
Disaster struck as Jed Steer re-aggravated an Achilles injury whilst attempting to save a shot from Matt Doherty in the 7th minute, and the back-up stopper was forced into leaving the field of play for Nyland from then on.
Despite conceding twice against a ferocious Wolverhampton Wanderers side, Nyland offered an assured performance in spite of his lack of playing time and impressed a number of supporters with his quick distribution. His distribution was accurate too – with all of his shorter passes finding a team-mate, and five of his seven attempted longer passes doing the same.
Nyland made two saves using his reflexes against Wolves and could have potentially stopped Ruben Neves’ thundering opener had he dived just an iota earlier. The ‘keeper managed to get his fingertips to the shot but the power of the strike was just too much.
Speaking after the game, Ørjan discussed the opportunity that was gifted to him through the ill fate of Jed Steer.
“Obviously Jed got injured, and you never want to replace an injured player and team-mate”
“I know both sides of the game – I know what it’s like to be the number one and be the one that prepares yourself for every game”
“You just have to do your work every day and be ready for the opportunity”, Ørjan stresses.
“Today an injury gave me the opportunity and for me, it was just about getting on and doing my thing – what I’ve been working towards.”
Nyland now finds himself traversing uncharted waters with injuries to Tom Heaton and Jed Steer. Jed Steer is set to be out for around two months, but there has been little news in regard to how long Heaton will be missing.
As Aston Villa host Newcastle United post-international break, the 6 foot 4″ goalkeeper could find himself starting his first-ever Premier League game, and how fitting that it should be against Steve Bruce – the man who brought him to the Midlands.
Either way, Ørjan now finds himself rising up the pecking order steadily and is now the obvious back-up for Tom Heaton, should the veteran’s recovery be quick, in coming months following Steer’s injury and the lack of Lovre Kalinic about the club.