Hearts are wasting no time at all in their quest to rebuild their entire squad…
The hardest part of relegation is the inevitable reshaping of a squad that comes with it. Fan favourites leave and some of a club’s better players might activate relegation release clauses embedded within their contracts. Partick Thistle are no exception to this rule but have got off rather lightly in this regard. Just two first team players have chosen to activate such a clause – Ryan Edwards, who joined Hearts, and Tomas Cerny, currently without a club.
We’ve already discussed the impact Edwards could make at Tynecastle next season and praised Hearts for a prudent move in the transfer market, but many clubs could do a lot worse than to consider adding Cerny to their squad. It seems odd that a goalkeeper that’s just been relegated should be high on any manager’s shopping list but in Cerny’s case, at least, it makes perfect sense.
The 2017/18 campaign was a difficult one for Cerny and his old teammates at Firhill. Thistle struggled to get going all season and when they were eventually relegated in the playoffs at the hand of Livingston, fans couldn’t complain too much. After all, this was a team that had only managed to score 31 league goals all season and had conceded 61, winning just eight Premiership fixtures all season.
As we’ll see though, it could have been a lot worse for the Jags had Cerny not been between the sticks. The Czech goalie had a decent season by his own standards and has repeatedly proven himself to be an excellent keeper at Premiership level. The main problem in Partick Thistle’s defence last season wasn’t poor goalkeeping leading to soft goals: it was that the Thistle defenders were arguably the league’s most dysfunctional last season.
The above graph details the total number of saves each goalkeeper in the Premiership made this campaign and, as we can see, only Hearts’ Jon McLaughlin – who made it into the Premiership team of the year – made more saves than Cerny. Playing for a team with little leadership or organisation at the back will undoubtedly lead to facing more shots, but still – all a goalkeeper can do is protect his goal and Cerny has done that more than just about anyone else in the league.
On average, Cerny faced 4.51 attempts on goal per game last season and made 3.1 saves per 90. There’s still a discrepancy here of 1.41 shots per match that aren’t getting saved but once off-target efforts are accounted for, we can see that Cerny actually stops an excellent proportion of the shots he faces.
So what is it that makes Cerny so good? At six feet tall he’s on the small side for a goalkeeper, but it isn’t the 33-year-old’s height or physical presence that catch the eye. His reflexes are, quite simply, fantastic. The table below compares the amount of reflex saves that Premiership goalies made throughout the season and there’s one name that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Throughout Cerny’s time in Scotland – initially with Hamilton, then Hibs then Thistle – he has continually proven himself to be one of the Premiership’s most adept shot-stoppers. His instinctual blocks at the back are something that cannot be taught and that goalies quite simply have it or don’t. It’s a tremendous asset and one that shouldn’t be downplayed – especially for a club in the bottom half of the table, where slack defending can often lead to opposition attempts on goal with little warning. Having a goalkeeper that the manager can rely on can be as important as a prolific striker.
As good as Cerny’s reflexes are, his positioning is clearly part of his game that could use some work. Only Wes Foderingham conceded more goals from outside the box this season. The ex-Thistle didn’t concede any goals from direct free kicks, which is encouraging, but let more shots from open play from outside the box past him than any other keeper in the division. This tells us Cerny needs to be protected by his defenders and needs them to close down opposition forwards when they have a view of the goal.
This would suit the playing styles of Hearts or Kilmarnock, for instance, who lead the way for the number of shots blocked per game. With Jon McLaughlin’s future in doubt, Craig Levein will be on the lookout for alternatives should the newly-capped Scotland international decide to move on and Cerny would provide a relatively cheap replacement.
Wherever he ends up, Cerny will likely prove to be a crucial part of the team. He’s done it time and again throughout his career and fans are always sad to see him leave when he decides to move on. His outstanding reflexes are a rare and invaluable asset – particularly for clubs in the lower half or around the middle of the Premiership – and he can bring a lot to his team, if used correctly. There will no doubt be a few Premiership clubs looking to bring in a goalkeeper this summer – the solution might just be staring them in the face.