Arijanet Muric made the season’s worst goalkeeping mistake: how did it happen – and what now?

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There are goalkeeping errors; there are bad goalkeeping errors and then there is the kind of goalkeeping error Arijanet Muric made on Saturday.

It wasn’t simply that Burnley’s goalkeeper allowed a backpass to roll under his boot and into his goal. It was that he did it in arguably his club’s biggest Premier League game of the season, when his relegation-threatened side were leading Brighton & Hove Albion 1-0, thus turning three points into one in the blink of an eye.

Some Burnley supporters held their heads in their hands, others threw up in their arms in dismay. Most just stared with their mouths open.

It was arguably the Premier League’s costliest goalkeeping blunder of the season and, to compound matters, it was his second in as many games, having suffered a similar mishap at Everton the previous week.

But how can you explain a mistake like this – and what happens to Muric now?


The background

There has been a debate over Burnley’s goalkeeping position ever since July when the club signed James Trafford from Manchester City for an initial £15million.

Trafford had excelled on loan at League One Bolton Wanderers in the previous season and then became the hero in England Under-21s’ European Championship victory.

It was clear Trafford had arrived at Burnley to be the new No 1, but supporters were less convinced. Muric had played a huge part in Burnley’s Championship-winning campaign – they felt he deserved a chance to prove himself in the Premier League.

Trafford began the season as first choice but things did not go smoothly. With a leaky defence in front of him, he conceded 62 goals and his use of the ball disgruntled fans. Trafford is comfortable in possession but does not boast the passing range or proactivity of Muric.

Kompany persisted with the 21-year-old and he avoided making high-profile mistakes until the game at Crystal Palace in February when his poor pass resulted in Josh Brownhill’s red card with the game still goalless. Burnley eventually lost 3-0.

Two games later, Kompany made the change and Muric made a positive impact. The defence looked calmer, he made crucial saves in a 2-1 victory against Brentford and performed well in draws against Chelsea and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Burnley, having looked doomed, had fresh hope in their survival battle, particularly in the wake of points deductions handed to Everton and Nottingham Forest. A trip to Goodison Park last Saturday looked pivotal in deciding their fate.

It was here that Muric’s week from hell began. After dallying on the ball, he was closed down by Dominic Calvert-Lewin…

…and when he attempted a pass to Wilson Odobert…

…it struck Calvert-Lewin’s leg and looped into the net.

Burnley could not find a way back into the game and ended it six points adrift of safety. To stand a realistic chance of surviving, victory at home to Brighton looked essential.


The mistake

For once, luck appeared to be going Burnley’s way.

Fifteen minutes remained at Turf Moor yesterday when Brighton goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen, a Burnley transfer target last summer, saw his attempted clearance cannon off the onrushing Brownhill and into the net.

Belief began to flood back into the stadium: suddenly, the gap to fourth-from-bottom Nottingham Forest stood at just four points.

There was a lull in the game as Burnley tried to exert some control with some easy possession in their own half. It began with Charlie Taylor recycling the ball to Muric, who moved it on to Sander Berge on the edge of the box.

Berge was under little pressure. Brighton striker Joao Pedro casually made his way towards him so he played a simple pass back to Muric. It was well-paced and accurate.

There was no pressure – Brighton’s Adam Lallana began to press but he was still some distance away.

The Kosovo international attempted to control the ball with his studs rather than the side of his foot, a common tactic in the Premier League to encourage opposing players to advance, thus making it easier to break through their press.

But he got it horribly wrong. The ball ran under his foot and, despite Muric’s best attempts to recover the situation, his agonising scramble back to his own goal line came up short.

A moment of madness, a loss of concentration or simply taking his eye off the ball – whatever the cause, the result was disastrous. As the goalkeeper returned to his feet he looked dazed and in disbelief.

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The fallout

Just like at Everton the previous week, Burnley could not muster another goal after Muric’s effort and two precious points had slipped through their fingers.

In the aftermath, Burnley’s staff did their best to rally around their crestfallen goalkeeper. With Kompany absent from the touchline due to a touchline ban, assistant manager Craig Bellamy said the coaching staff took responsibility for the error, by asking the goalkeeper to play out from the back.

“It’s us (as coaches). It’s not his mistake, it’s our mistake,” Bellamy said. “We’re not going to change. He’s scored goals for us doing what he does. It’s not an issue. It’s how we like to play football. It might not be for everyone but we believe in this way. Get the ball again, look for the pass again.”

Muric was understandably dejected. After one inaccurate kick following his mistake, he turned his back on the game despite the ball remaining in play.

After the final whistle, he was consoled individually by his teammates, who offered a word of encouragement or a tap on the back of the neck.


Arijanet Muric is consoled by Maxime Esteve (Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

“All confidence in Aro (Muric),” said centre-back Maxime Esteve. “He’s a big, big goalkeeper. He’s shown me a lot of things at training, in games. He’s made so many saves which were very important − Aro’s saved the team. It’s football, he’ll get his head up and the team are with him.”

Bellamy pointed out the point-blank save Muric made in stoppage time to keep the score level, even if the offside flag was subsequently raised.

“We all make mistakes,” Bellamy added. “It’s how you respond from it. I’ve got nothing but praise for him because he’s willing to keep going.”

They were kind words, and Muric has largely been an impressive performer for the club. But he knows how costly his errors have been. The question now is whether Burnley stick with him.

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