One of the highlights of this season has been the performances of Josh Griffiths, who got over a shaky start to become a brick wall at the back for us.
This weekend’s game saw Griffiths cup-tied, which was great news for Sam Long. He put in a strong outing, but perhaps isn’t ready for League One football. With Archie Mair kept on the bench, it does seem that a possible keeper issue could be looming. Before we look at the ifs and whats, let’s be clear; this isn’t a season-breaking problem. Remember the play-off semi0final? Alex Palmer was concussed in the days leading up to that, and Joe Bursik came in and did superbly well. The chances of getting him against are slim, he’s playing regularly for Stoke, but it demonstrates options are out there.
Why Was Griffiths Cup Tied?
West Brom didn’t let Griffiths play for a reason, they’re not just being difficult. The issue is the same as we had last season; Sam Johnstone. He’s a great keeper and there’s always chatter about his future. He’s out of contract at the end of the season, and could well move on. He’s in talks with West Brom, and a new deal would likely mean Griffiths stays here. However, if he turns it down, then they could cash in on him quickly, with Spurs one club interested.
They do have two other keepers, one is Alex Palmer who we know well, but they’re likely to take Josh back too. Why? A club doesn’t usually have a ten-day recall clause activated as it makes it more difficult to loan a player out. My gut feeling is we don’t have that with Josh, so if one of their other keepers got injured, they might have a problem.
What Has Michael said?
Michael has admitted that the West Brom decision could mean they recall Josh, but that the Imps are preparing for that. “We’re in a position now, if that does happen, where we’ll have things boxed off,” he told Lincs Live. “Come that time, we’ll be more than covered in terms of the goalkeeping position.”
He also clarified the West Brom position, mentioning how the Imps initially felt there wouldn’t be an issue. “West Brom refused to allow us to play Josh,” he added. “We knew there’d be a question that needed to be asked, but at the time of signing him we felt pretty confident because they’ve got three goalkeepers. But it’s their prerogative, he’s their goalkeeper. Once we had that clarity, we had to make a decision.”
That decision was to bring Sam Long back from Gainsborough, and he put in a good performance, pulling off a great save from a free-kick and earning the supporter’s Man of the Match on social media.
Surely, We’ll Just Get Alex Palmer Back?
I’ve seen it said we’d just get Palmer back if they recall Josh, but that won’t happen. West Brom will want three keepers in their squad; one to play matches, the other to sit on the bench and the third to come in if there’s a problem with the other two. Currently, that hierarchy is Johnson, David Button and Palmer as the third man. It would be interesting if Josh goes back, as him and Alex Palmer would be fighting for a spot on the bench. Of course, they may bring another keeper in if Johnstone does leave, and that would mean Josh stays put. They’re refused permission not necessarily because he’s definitely going back, but as a contingency, in case things happen that means he has to.
What Are The Other Implications?
There are two implications, both in the short and long term. The first is the FA Cup Second Round – the draw is tonight and depending on who we get, it might force Michael’s hand. Buxton away might be a game we can use Sam in again, but would the same be the case for Portsmouth away? I’m not so sure, there’s so much scope for breaking the young man’s confidence by playing him too quickly. However, I’m not sure if he can be sent back to Gainsborough now or not. If he can’t, we don’t have a choice; it’s Mair or Long. If Sam goes back to Gainsborough, we could, in theory, bring in an emergency keeper for the Second Round tie.
Secondly, Griffiths is one of the players regularly called up for international duty. If he leaves, we might not have enough players to call off-key fixtures. The only remaining international break after this one is March 26th, when we travel to Shrewsbury, so there’s plenty of time to address the situation, but it is something to be wary of.
I think the desire on both sides of the deal will be to keep Josh at Lincoln. West Brom won’t play him regularly if he goes back, and they’re sure to be keen to see him developing, as he is doing here with regular games. By not letting him get cup-tied, they’re covering the base, making sure a question has an answer if it gets asked, not when it gets asked. Personally, I do think that Johnstone could move on, but I imagine West Brom’s perfect scenario would be to sign another first-team keeper. They don’t seem to fancy Alex Palmer, and whilst Button is an experienced stopper, I think any Johnstone money would go towards a player they fancy coming out of contract.
Interestingly, Alex Palmer is out of contract in June 2023, and I wonder if, with one year left this summer, they might make a decision on him? I wouldn’t bet against him being sold, to us, with a sell-on fee added in. it’s going to be a bit of a wait to see if that happens, and in the meantime, we might go for a loan for six more months, until the summer shakeup.