Cosmin Moti celebrating an improbable victory against Steaua BucharestLudogrets Razgard, the undisputed champions of Bulgaria, will be taking their place amongst Europe’s elite in the Champions’ League group stages for the first time in their history this season. The story of their rise from the Bulgarian third division via two consecutive promotions to achieve an unprecedented first division treble (Bulgarian League, Cup and Super Cup) is barely believable in itself, but it enters the realm of ludicrous fantasy when you realize how they got to Europe this season.When the goalkeeper, Vladislav Stoyanov was sent off deep into extra-time their journey-man center Romanian back, Cosmin Moti, was forced into take his place in goal. He would go on to produce two stunning saves in the resulting penalty shootout (while also converting Ludogrets’ first spot-kick) to deny the Romanian giants Steaua Bucharest in an astounding result that could have been scripted only by a man in a LSD-influence utopia.To celebrate the incredible heroics of Moti, we take a look back at 7 outfield players who have put in brave and unexpectedly skillful performances as stand-in goalkeepers over the years.Author’s note – The list does not purport to be definitive; I would love to see your favourites in the comments section.
#1 Alex Dawson - Manchester United
Date – January, 1961
Opposition – Tottenham Hotspur
The Tale – When their legendary keeper Harry Gregg injured his shoulder in a traditionally (for that era) violent penalty box melee just before the half time whistle went, it looked like United were in deep trouble. After all, the Spurs team they were facing that blustery winter day had entered this match undefeated and had scored in every single game until then.
During the interval, the United back-room staff did their best to patch up Gregg’s shoulder, but when he re-entered the pitch, one arm was heavily bandaged – essentially he was going to be useless as a goal-keeper and had taken the field to play as a centre forward!
This meant that United’s main striker Alex Dawson, who had spent the last few moments of the first half in goal, would now have a whole 45 minutes to bear the brunt of the Spurs onslaught. And bear it he did. In style too; he excelled when called upon and pulled off a remarkable point blank save late on to keep United in the match.
His goalkeeping heroics didn’t go in vain as Gregg (of all people) produced a marvelous back-heel through ball for Mark Pearson to score the only goal of the match. Dawson had achieved what no ‘real’ goalkeeper had achieved till date in that season – a clean sheet against the champions to be.
Tottenham failed to score in only two matches all season; this was one.
#2 Niall Quinn - Manchester City
Date – April, 1991
Opposition – Derby County
The Tale – The iconic Irish striker knew he was in for a tough match when he lined up against a relegation-threatened Derby county, but he had no idea how tough it was going to get. Having given City an early lead with his 20th goal of the season, he watched in horror as his goalkeeper Tony Coton was sent off for fouling Dean Sounders in the penalty box just before half time.
Teams those days normally abhorred the practice of naming substitute goalkeepers, and so it was up to the fiery Irishman to step up to the plate. Getting into a different jersey and pulling on a pair of goalkeeping gloves, Quinn would go on to establish himself as a legend in the eyes of everyone at Maine Road that day.
As Sounders embarked on a rather long run up, all eyes were on the fiery Irishman in goal. The penalty itself was rather decent but Quinn produced a tremendous save, as he dived well to his left to protect City’s lead. They would go on to double it in the second half and although Quinn misjudged a cross from the right wing to let Derby back in the game, he would do wonderfully well to keep them at bay for the rest of the game.The match ended 2-1.
Ten-men City, with their main striker playing as the goalkeeper for the entire second half, had relegated poor Derby County!
#3 Michael Tarnat - Bayern Munich
Date – September, 1999
Opposition – Eintracht Frankfurt
The Tale – Having an extra goalkeeper on the bench may not be enough protection either as German giants Bayern Munich would find out on chilly autumn day in the Bundesliga. Already 1-0 down, they suffered a major blow when their inspirational goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn, collided with teammate Samuel Kuffour in a veritable clash of the titans. Kahn came off the worse for wear and had to be substituted.
His replacement, Bernd Dreher, would go on to spend less than two minutes on the field before suffering a horrible twisted knee after an awkward landing, forcing the medical staff to carry him off the pitch. This meant Micheal Tarnat, the young left wing-back (with the trademark thunderous shot that made him one of the finest free kick takers in the nation) would now have to tend the goal for the better part of thirty minutes.
Standing there in a comically oversized goalkeeper’s jersey meant for a man twice his size, Tarnat kept Eintracht at bay with a brave display, as Bayern went in search of answers at the other end. The Bavarians managed to score two, but they may well have had to settle for a draw if it weren’t for their stand-in goalie’s heroics - a Frankfurt shot got through the panicky Munich defence, and when it took a last second deflection, it looked destined to go in.
The wrong footed Tarnat, who had already started moving to his right, spun around with remarkable agility and showing incredible presence of mind and great speed, dived back to his left to claw the ball back right off the line. He had ensured his team’s victory with a save that the great Oliver Kahn himself would have been proud to call his own.
Bayern would go on to win the match 2-1.
#4 Jan Koller - Borussia Dortmund
Date – November, 2002
Opposition – Bayern Munich
The Tale – Where most players like Tarnat look comically small in the big XXL jerseys favoured by the giants that pass for modern day goalkeepers, for big Jan Koller, it actually looked like quite a snug fit.
In a typically ill-tempered match between the two arch rivals, Koller had given Dortmund an early lead only to see Bayern claw back the advantage and then get a lead of their own by the 65th minute. Torsten Frings had been sent off and Matthias Sammer had already used his quota of substitutions when Jens Lehmann protested a decision rather too vociferously for the referee’s liking. He received a second yellow and off he went.
Down to 9 men, and with the giant Czech striker in goal, it looked like Dortmund were going to be on the recieving end of the mother of all hidings. Except, nobody accounted for the Czech giant’s superlative goalkeeping skills. Koller produced a virtuoso performance as he repelled wave after wave of Bayern attacks. Tragically, it would prove to be futile as Dortmund would lose the match, but Koller didn’t concede any more goals. And besides, the sight of him sprinting up the pitch to get into the mix for a corner in the dying minutes was sight to behold!
Koller would be named by the German magazine ‘Kicker’ in their team of the week – as goalkeeper.
#5 Mladen Petric - FC Basel
Date – November, 2006
Opposition – AS Nancy
The Tale – The talented Croatian forward had quite a successful stint at Basel, the crowning moment of his career in the Swiss league being the golden boot he got for being the top scorer in the league with 19 goals in his final season at the club. While the goals ensured Petri was a hero amongst the Basel support, it was his heroics in their UEFA Cup group stage match against Nancy that elevated him to cult status.
With the game tied at 2-2 and Basel in desperate need of at least a point, the goalkeeper Franco Costanzo was sent off for a foul on Issair Dia. Up stepped Mickael Chreiten, to a cacophony of boos, to claim what surely was a dead certain goal. But Petri had other plans.
After listening to a short lecture from the departing Constanzo, who also gave him his own gloves and jersey, he dived brilliantly to his left to not just stop the penalty but collect the rebound as well. The referee would blow his whistle soon after to give Basel (and Petri) a hard-earned and well deserved point.
#6 Phil Jagielka - Sheffield United
The Date – December, 2006
The opposition – Arsenal
The Tale – Neil Warnock, the current manager of Crystal Palace, is as old-school as they come and in his time with Sheffield United, he espoused the philosophy that having a goalkeeper on the bench was just a waste of a berth where he could instead field an extra attacking option.
This philosophy was put to its severest test when Pady Kenny limped off with a thigh injury in the 55th minute of their match against Arsenal on a freezing December day at Bramall Lane. It was then that he asked one of his most promising talents, a young defender named Phil Jagielka to take up the gloves.
Jagielka had done some goalkeeping in his youth days at the Sheffield academy and it was expected that he would be chosen. What wasn’t expected though was the brilliant display he Twould be put in as he repeatedly repelled a dangerous Arsenal attack for the remainder of the match. The Blades would hold on to their 1-0 lead. The defining moment of the match came late on, when Jagielka saved spectularly off a stunning Robin van Persie effort as United held on for a hard fought victory over their more illustrious opposition.
He made quite a habit of it too, playing as goalkeeper for periods against Crystal Palace, Millwall and Plymouth earning himself a cult status in the illustrious folklore of Bramall Lane.
#7 John OShea - Manchester United
Date – February, 2007
Opposition - Tottenham Hotspur
Tale - John O’Shea, the ultimate utility man, has proven his versatility many a-times at Manchester United where he put in solid performances across the back four, in midfield and even as an emergency striker during a particularly bad injury-hit patch of the 2007-08 season. But it was in his stand in goalkeeper role against Tottenham Hotspur that he truly showed the world he could play anywhere on the pitch.
United had taken a comfortable 4-0 lead over Spurs by the time Edwin van Der Sar had his nose broken in a strong challenge in the box. With all three substitutions made, it was time for the Red Devils’ quick-fix man to pull on a pair of goalkeeping gloves.
Despite the four goals United scored, the high point of the night would be when John O’Shea came careening off the goal line in his best impression of the legendary Schmeichel starfish pose to pull off a tremendous save that denied his fellow Irishman and lethal striker Robbie Keane one-on-one.
Cue laughter all around (even with Keane). And with the United faithful singing paeans like “Ireland’s no.1” and “You can’t get past O’Shea” to him, the amazing Irishman would go on to replicate the great Alex Dawson’s feat and keep Spurs scoreless.
That night, a laughing Sir Alex Ferguson nicknamed him “The Cat” for his tremendously agile performance between the sticks.