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Sunday, 29 July 2012

Bristol City are Heaton up!

Firstly apologies for the title of this article.  I don't normally indulge in tabloid style attention grabbers but I simply couldn't resist!

The signing of a goalkeeper for City was hardly the biggest of summer surprises, it having been a position manager Derek McInnes had earmarked following the departure of David James, who left in May following his mixed two year pit-stop in BS3.

The question really surrounded whether McInnes was after a number two - as cover for Dean Gerken, perhaps a young up-and-coming star - or a more genuine challenge for the number one jersey.  My belief is that Tom Heaton falls firmly into the latter category.

The former Manchester united starlet has spent a couple of years across the Severn Bridge at rivals Cardiff City, but has largely had to make do with the occasional appearance as cover for first-choice David Marshall, and was first-choice for their Carling Cup games.  Now if that had been his situation at Ashton Gate he wouldn't have managed many games, but Cardiff have proven particularly efficient in cup competitions in recent years, and of course last season, Heaton's performances helped the then-Bluebirds to Wembley, with a series of penalty shoot-out wins eventually coming to an end against Liverpool in the final, but not before Heaton had saved Steven Gerrard's spot-kick.

So what sort of player have City signed, will he be getting more splinters from the bench or is he likely to be wearing number one at The City Ground on August 18th?

I asked Cardiff fan Joe Harrison to offer a view on Heaton, and he kindly agreed, offering the following:

"The first point to make is the most important: I think Tom Heaton should prove a very solid signing for Bristol City and is a more than capable number one for the Robins. His most prominent moments for Cardiff came in last year’s run to the Carling Cup Final – famously saving two of Crystal Palace’s penalties in the semi-final, before brilliantly denying from Steven Gerrard in the Wembley shoot-out; albeit an effort ultimately in vain.

However, he did spend almost the entirety of the Bluebirds’ league season watching on from the sidelines as Malky Mackay established David Marshall as his first choice. Heaton was unlucky in this: not because he is better than Marshall (I personally think that Marshall is a superior player), but because he is a good enough goalkeeper to be first choice for the majority of teams at Championship level.

In terms of specifics, I feel Heaton’s main strength (apart from his penalty saving, of course!) is his all-round solidity – no area of his game is a particular or glaring weakness, although his stature can mean he is less than commanding when dealing with crosses. Conversely, this strength could also be his weakness: though he has no great weaknesses, it could be argued that he similarly does not possess any truly outstanding traits.

Personally, his shot-stopping has always been a slight concern; while he rarely makes a glaring error leading to a goal, he doesn’t often make saves beyond those you would expect most goalkeepers to make. His footwork is also questionable on occasion, leaving him flatfooted and beaten by seemingly slow, looping efforts on goal.

These notes are perhaps overly critical though, not only do I know a number of Cardiff fans who rate him more highly than I do, but these minor criticisms should not obscure the fact that he is a goalkeeper of proven Championship pedigree, one who I expect to be viewed as a bargain for Bristol City on a free transfer."

So it appears on the face of it as if we have picked up another solid player.  At 6ft 3" he certainly should seem commanding enough, and that's an area not too many City 'keepers have excelled at over the years.  One of David James' apparent strengths was his ability to organise and use his experience, although that looked to be curiously missing for large parts of his sojourn.

Heaton is 26 but relatively inexperienced, even though TeamGB manager Stuart Pearce saw enough in him to substitute Joe Hart and bring Heaton on for England under-21's a few seasons ago.  Maybe this is a goalkeeper simply in need of games to prove his worth, and maybe we'll be just the team to do that.

Let's hope Heaton's deal will be extended next summer - he's only signed for an initial season - because that will almost certainly mean he, and City, have been relatively successful.

Thanks again to Joe for his views, you can follow him on Twitter here:

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

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