Brighton keeper Jason Steele epitomised everything the FA Cup is about at Bournemouth - Scott McCarthy
If somebody tries to tell you that the magic has gone from the FA Cup or that this great competition has been reduced to an unnecessary distraction that nobody actually cares about, then point them towards one man playing in one game in the third round of the competition this weekend '“ Jason Steele.
Brighton and Hove Albion’s third choice goalkeeper epitomised everything that the FA Cup is about with his performance against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium. The magic of the FA Cup comes when it gives the underdog his day, when it gives those who have put in the hard graft over many years a rare moment in the spotlight, when it helps somebody who has sunk to the very bottom rise again.
It’s fair to say that Steele has had a torrid time of it over the past few seasons. Once one of the most highly-rated young goalkeepers in the country, he suffered relegation from the Championship with Blackburn Rovers in the 2016-17 season and then repeated the feat in 2017-18 with Sunderland, earning the accolade of worst Black Cats goalkeeper in history.
The reaction of Sunderland fans last summer when they heard that Steele had secured not just a new club, but a Premier League club was the sort of comic disbelief that supporters of a long-suffering football club tend to do better than anyone else.
Some of the better comments included “Brighton signing Jason Steele for actual money and not Wham Bars and Space Raiders is absolutely comical. What are they thinking?”, and “I’ve just got back from a couple of hours in Newcastle to the news that Jason Steele is getting a Premier League club. Sorry, did the world go mad while I was out?”
Steele was at rock bottom when he arrived at the Amex, a double relegation to his name and a promising career falling apart at the seams. And that is why his part in securing a first win against Bournemouth for over a decade was probably the best aspect of the day.
In Ben Roberts, Brighton must have one of the best goalkeeper coaches in the country. His arrival in the summer of 2015 coincided with David Stockdale turning from an error-strewn custodian to the outstanding goalkeeper in the Championship over the course of the next two seasons. Unsurprisingly, Stockdale’s career has gone into freefall since leaving the Albion and Roberts' tutelage.
It’s easy to forget how dodgy Maty Ryan looked in his first couple of games but now he is one of the best goalkeepers in the top flight. Roberts clearly had a part to play in the signing of David Button having previously worked with him at Charlton Athletic and given Steele’s performance on Saturday, the work Roberts has done in piecing him back together looks extraordinary already.
Steele made two second half saves that really stood out against the Cherries. Firstly, he pushed away David Brooks' powerful volley. Brooks, in case you needed reminding, scored twice in the 2-0 league defeat at the Vitality Stadium a fortnight previously.
Steele then made an extraordinary stop to fly across his goal and keep out a header from Steve Cook. The smile he had on his face after the second of those was like a man who has just turned up to a blind date to be greeted by Ariana Grande.
You could see the dark cloud of two years of struggle and doubt lifting, belief flooding back that actually, he could be a decent goalkeeper. Great news for him, good news for the Albion should misfortune befall Button or Ryan in the future.
Without the FA Cup, Steele would never have got that chance to prove himself or smile again. And that’s the magic of it, right there.
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