It may only be early days, but Alex Palmer has already started to emerge as one of Ryan Lowe’s most promising summer signings. The goalkeeper, on loan from West Brom, has kept two clean sheets in his first two matches, earning man on the match in the season opener away to Crewe Alexandra.
He has done little wrong. Along the way, he’s made a string of impressive saves, installed a sense of calm amongst the Argyle back line and distributed the ball quickly and efficiently as necessary.
He’s a confident goalkeeper that has impressed no end after two seasons of fairly questionable performances by Argyle’s range of goalkeepers. To many, it’s little surprise that Ryan Lowe was attracted to his qualities. At this early stage at least, he seems to be precisely the goalkeeper Argyle needed this summer.
Should it have been Cooper?
With that being said, during the break there was some serious clamour amongst Argyle fans for academy product Michael Cooper to get the number one spot this season. Whilst he was awarded the number one shirt at least, Lowe made it clear that his goalkeeping position was a straight race between both Cooper and Palmer. There was to be no favourite.
Given his age, relative experience in comparison to Cooper and the fact that he was loaned to the club, it should perhaps have come as little surprise that Palmer was given the nod at the start of the league campaign. Cooper is after all, yet to start a solitary league fixture.
Nonetheless, as Tuesday’s Carabao Cup game against Leyton Orient showed, Cooper is not out of the picture. The young goalkeeper got the chance to show the manager what he could do and all signs suggest that he will be Argyle’s ‘cup keeper’ in what is quickly becoming a new trend amongst many clubs the 92 over. I won’t claim to have foretold this eventuality.
Cooper starting the season as back up was a likely one given both his promise and his lack of experience. However, his inclusion in this week’s game was certainly welcomed. He may have played a limited number of minutes, but having come through the academy, he’s a popular player in the Argyle squad.
Promising performance against Orient
The Leyton Orient fixture was therefore a good opportunity for all to see what Cooper was about. Unfortunately though, through no fault of his own and almost exclusively due to Argyle’s dominance in possession, we saw very little of what he had to offer.
With Argyle controlling the game for large periods, combined with a robust defensive display, Cooper had relatively little to do. What he did have to do – a few routine saves, the odd catch from corners and the occasional pass – he did comfortably and looked assured throughout. Only one pass went wayward, but following a robust challenge from Niall Canavan Argyle managed to retain possession nonetheless.
So what did we learn about Cooper during the game given he was rarely called upon? Well for starters, he’s clearly a focused individual. It would have been very easy to lose concentration in a game that he wasn’t really tested. It’s a testament to his concentration and professionalism that Cooper did the little that was required of him comfortably. In a season in which Argyle are likely to hold the majority of the ball, it’s good to know that Cooper is likely to remain focused on the game and not let the lack of action see his mind wander elsewhere.
It would also be fair to suggest that Cooper could do with adding a little more bulk to his frame. Whilst this is unsurprising given his age, and part and parcel of being a young player, Cooper is noticeably smaller in stature than many goalkeepers, including Palmer. This shouldn’t have much impact upon his shot stopping, but it may hinder his ability to catch crosses in and amongst busy penalty areas.
With that being said, Cooper is still very young and this ‘problem’, if you can even call it that, is something many would expect to be the case at this stage of his career. Cooper has shown he can catch the ball well, so adding some bulk over time will only improve his ability in the air.
The next steps
There’s an old adage in football – ‘you can only beat who’s in front of you’ – and in many respects this is a fair way of analysing Cooper. Whilst there wasn’t a great deal for him to do against Leyton Orient, what he did have to do, he did well. Other than a disappointing performance against Chelsea U21’s in the EFL Cup, Cooper has looked relatively comfortable in each of his appearances for the club.
There were other good defensive displays in those games, particularly against Blackburn Rovers, and others in which he didn’t have much to do either. Nonetheless, when he has been called upon, he’s done all that’s been asked of him. What we’re seeing is the early career of a talented goalkeeper and, whilst it’s important not to get carried away, Argyle fans should be excited by Cooper as a future prospect.
With Reading up next in the Carabao Cup, and four other guaranteed cup fixtures at a minimum, we can expect to see more of Cooper in the coming weeks and months. The Championship side should pose more of a threat than that of Leyton Orient meaning Cooper will inevitably be tested more too. Whilst this will no doubt be the most difficult challenge he has faced to date in his career, it will be good to see how he plays and reacts to better opposition.
There is the added bonus of little expectation upon the Argyle squad, given Reading sit two tiers higher in the football pyramid. Hopefully this means that there will be less pressure on the young player, and we’ll really get to see what he can do between the sticks when challenged.