Two years ago Wednesday, Jed Steer made his Aston Villa debut, but even though he played fairly well, his Villa future is still as uncertain as it was then.
The weird thing about Jed Steer's lone appearance, a 1-0 defeat against Burnley on the last day of the 14/15 Premier League season, is that it showed the problems that Villa had in between the sticks. Problems, that have still not really been addressed.
Why was Jed playing? Sure, the season was essentially over, Villa were safe from relegation, so there was no reason not to play him. But aside from him, it was a full strength Villa side that featured that day. Our first choice goalkeeper, Brad Guzan, was dropped from first team duty after a calamitous performance against Manchester City a few weeks earlier. Veteran keeper Shay Given was called up in his stead, and to his credit, did alright in the few games that he played. Against Burnley, it was clear, rest Given ahead of the FA Cup final which took place a week later.
So how did we go from Jed Steer getting his first start, to the 24 year old still waiting for his second?
The 15/16 season
This pre-season was the perfect time for Tim Sherwood, Tom Fox and co to solve the goalkeeping problem. Because, there clearly was a problem. The squad as a whole was overhauled. The goalkeeping situation however, actually got worse.
Shay Given was the first to go, released on a free. At 40 years of age, it made sense. A decent-at-best backup, it made sense to let him go, as he was likely on a fair wage for his role. Definitely a good move on the club's part.
Replacing Given was Mark Bunn. Now, this is, and was a weird one. This was very much an uninspiring signing, as Bunn is perennially a backup keeper. As far as backups go, he's not bad either. But, I don't see him as an upgrade over Jed Steer in terms of ability.
The big failing of the summer was Brad Guzan. Specifically, that Brad Guzan wasn't replaced. I don't really understand why the goalkeeper dropped for poor form in the previous season was allowed to slot back in, uncontested. Ideally, Guzan should have been sold, and the club should have looked for a new first choice goalkeeper. Alternatively, the club should have looked to buy a goalkeeper capable of contesting for the first team jersey, which would have meant signing a goalkeeper of a higher calibre than Bunn.
As for Jed Steer, he was loaned out to Huddersfield, and featured 22 times that season in the Championship. It was unfortunate that he was unable to build upon his first appearance for Villa, but he was at least able to avoid being part of a dismal Villa season.
Predictably, Brad Guzan was awful, and when he was dropped for poor form, Mark Bunn couldn't do much better. Aston Villa conceded 76 goals, and finished bottom of the Premier League.
The 16/17 season
Another attempt to fix the goalkeeping situation was made, and at least this one had ambition, but once again, fell short of what was required.
Brad Guzan was thankfully shipped out to Middlesbrough (where he continued to be awful), and Pierluigi Gollini was brought in to replace him. The Italian wasn't terrible, but a couple of mistakes cost Villa crucial points, and ultimately cost Roberto Di Matteo his job (not just Gollini, I should add). Steve Bruce came in, and Gollini fell out of favour, with Mark Bunn featuring from December to January.
The period in which Bunn replaced Gollini would have been perfect for Steer. Unfortunately, Steer ruptured his Achilles, which ruled him out for the season. Prior to this, I'm not actually sure what the plan was with Steer. He had returned from a successful loan spell, and was just left to float around aimlessly at Villa until he picked up an injury. What was the end game?
Gollini was shipped out in January, and replaced by Sam Johnstone, who joined on loan from Manchester United. It was a bit of a strange move, replacing one rookie goalkeeper with another one. At first, Johnstone struggled, and made some costly errors, just like Gollini did before him. However, Johnstone was given more leeway than his Italian predecessor, and he eventually came good with some solid performances. This unfortunately, would only be a short term solution, as United have no intention of selling Johnstone, which in turn, presents its own dilemma for Villa.
Going forward, the 17/18 season
Pierluigi Gollini's loan deal with Atalanta runs for another year, which essentially rules him out of the picture. Mark Bunn's contract is set to expire, and as of yet, no contract extension has been rumoured. Sam Johnstone will return to Manchester United at the expiry of his loan spell. Jed Steer is still recovering from injury. Matija Sarkic, Viktor Johanesson and Emmanuel Idem are still youth players. What do Villa do moving forward?
Villa want to re-sign Sam Johnstone, and Sam Johnstone wants to return to Villa. If he does, it'll likely be another loan spell, as United are unlikely to budge on their desire to keep him around in the long term. It's all well and good getting him in on loan again, but it doesn't help Villa in the long run, as the club would essentially be developing another team's player. But does that matter? Huddersfield have reached the playoff final this season, and their goalkeeper, Danny Ward is on loan from Liverpool. Is it worth taking on a goalkeeper in the short term, and re-assess if/when the club get promoted. The only risk there is that the club don't have the best track record when it comes to recruiting shot stoppers.
What of the second choice position? Mark Bunn, as average as he may be, has proven to be popular in the dressing room. Is it worth offering him an extension, as he is a proven locker room leader and a veteran presence? But if so, what of Jed Steer? I can't see him being willing to sit out another season, especially as he nears his prime. Second choice is where his current ability probably lies, but it is hard to say whether or not he is a better option than Bunn at this point.
It's a difficult position for the club to be in, as they almost certainly have to bring in one new goalkeeper, and possibly two. What should Villa do? Let us know in the comments below!