Port Vale: Is 2017 the year of the goalkeeper in Burslem?
Port Vale have so far had a year to forget. Relegated from League One in April, they are just two places off the bottom of League Two.
There have been fresh signs of hope in Burslem since the appointment of former Vale defender Neil Aspin as manager on 4 October.
But even he has not yet been able to solve the frustrating puzzle that is the bane of most Vale fans' lives: Why can't they find a regular goalkeeper?
In 2017 so far, they have played 42 matches in all competitions, scored 36 goals, conceded 64, lost 23 games, drawn 10 and won nine, kept nine clean sheets and had NINE goalkeepers.
"I am very disappointed about the whole goalkeeping situation," Aspin told BBC Radio Stoke after Saturday's 3-0 home defeat by Swindon Town, in which Vale's ninth keeper of 2017, on-loan Nottingham Forest man Dimi Evtimov, made his debut.
Since the £250,000 sale of Jak Alnwick to Scottish giants Rangers in January, Vale have so far gone through eight attempts to replace him.
Admittedly, they have not been helped by injuries. Luckless summer signing Rob Lainton has made just four appearances - and has had to be replaced in two of them, each time with separate injuries.
And the final straw for Aspin was losing his on-loan replacement, Derby's Dutch keeper Kelle Roos, with a knee inury that he had picked up in the previous week's win at high-flying Exeter.
That forced the late call to bring in another emergency loan signing Evtimov, which Vale did not make public until just before kick-off on Saturday.
Aspin has opted to go down the emergency loanee route while Lainton is out injured as he is allowed to do so, as long as none of his regular keepers have made more than five league starts - and he wants to protect his one fit young goalkeeper, Ryan Boot.
"All week I was told that Kelle would have been fit," said Aspin. "Then, on Friday morning at quarter past ten, I was told that he was not fit to play.
"I had a real problem then - only one fit goalkeeper at the club. It put us in a difficult situation. I was very annoyed and my mood hasn't changed with Saturday's performance."
The importance of a settled goalkeeper
- By way of comparison, over the same time period, three top-flight clubs can boast a goalkeeper who has not missed a Premier League match in 2017 - Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City), Fraser Forster (Southampton) and Heurelho Gomes (Watford).
- In the Championship, Sam Johnstone has done the same on loan at Aston Villa from Manchester United.
- Aspin's most successful playing days were with Port Vale, where he had the same goalkeeper - Paul Musselwhite - behind him for almost 300 of his 410 appearances.
Vale's nine keepers of 2017
- Jak Alnwick: Played 2 (and a half), lost 1, conceded 4, clean sheets 1. Sold to Glasgow Rangers for a reported £250,000 on 30 January.
- Miguel Santos: Played 31 minutes, lost 1, conceded 3. Released three days after only appearance. Signed by former boss Bruno Ribeiro in August 2016.
- Ryan Boot: Played 2, lost 0, conceded 2, clean sheets 1. Loaned out last season to non-league neighbours Macclesfield Town.
- Leo Fasan: Played 10, conceded 14, clean sheets 2. Signed in January from Celtic by Michael Brown. Alternated with Deniz Mehmet. Now at Bury.
- Deniz Mehmet: Played 9, lost 6, conceded 14, clean sheets 2. Signed in March from Falkirk by Michael Brown. Now back in Scotland at Dundee United.
- Rob Lainton: Played 2 (and two halves), lost 3, conceded 4. Joined from Bury in summer of 2017, lasted 45 minutes in second game at Leeds. Injured ankle in second game back at Coventry.
- Sam Hornby: Played 4 (plus two substitute appearances), lost 6, conceded 11. Summer signing from Burton Albion.
- Kelle Roos: Played 9, lost 3, conceded 9, clean sheets 3. Signed in September on loan from Derby County, now out with knee injury.
- Dimi Evtimov: Played 1, lost 1, conceded 3. Brought in on an emergency loan from Nottingham Forest.
- PLUS, they can can also call on youth team keeper Joe Slinn, who signed his first professional contract in August.