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  • Writer's pictureCaydn Foley

Heward-Belle strengthens starting claim in Western United's A-League Men opener

After Western United’s championship-winning goalkeeper Jamie Young departed for cross-town rivals Melbourne City in the off-season, Western United was left without a clear number-one option. Manager John Aloisi opted to bring in two young goalkeepers who had not cemented themselves at their previous A-League Men clubs. But in a 2-1 victory in their season opener, Thomas Heward-Belle staked his claim to be the man between the sticks for Western United moving forward.

Heward-Belle (top row, third from left) has so far made the goalkeeping position his this season. (Instagram: @tommyy_hb)


Before this season, Thomas Heward-Belle was deputy to Socceroos hero Andrew Redmayne at Sydney FC. He only managed to step onto the pitch 13 times during his tenure between 2017 and 2023. However, the 26-year-old had the opportunity to start for the club in a victory against Celtic, coached at the time by Ange Postecoglou, when the Scottish giants travelled to Australia in November last year. Heward-Belle’s dominant control of his penalty area impressed critics.


In last night's victory against Melbourne City, Heward-Belle managed a save percentage of 86% and only conceded through an early goal-of-the-season contender by City midfielder Tolgay Arslan.

The custodian's distribution was also not too shabby on his Western United league debut, as he managed to complete 80% of his passes, which often allowed Aloisi's side to play through Melbourne City’s press. Heward-Belle's skilful distribution brings yet another much-needed asset to Western, as although their previous goalkeeper, Jamie Young, is one of the best shot-stoppers in the A-League Men, his distribution and ability with the ball at his feet can leave much to be desired.


In the modern game, goalkeepers must be able to play with the ball at their feet and almost occasionally act as a third centre-back as more teams today play with an extremely high defensive line in an attempt to win and subsequently maintain possession in the opposition half. Young developed as a goalkeeper when those in the position were merely expected to sit on the goal line and boot the ball forward whenever it came near them.
 

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John Aloisi has been impressed by Heward-Belle's performances so far this season. (Instagram: @tommyy_hb)


Speaking post-game, Aloisi addressed the youthfulness in A-League Men minutes Western has in the goalkeeping department, stating that the club is confident they have made the right recruitment decisions in the off-season.


“Both goalkeepers that we signed have been doing really well in pre-season,” Aloisi said.


“(Matt) Sutton and Heward-Belle haven't played a lot of football between them. Heward-Belle is a little bit older; he's been that second keeper for a number of years. But we were pleased with the way they have been performing in pre-season, and we had no doubt that we made the right decision in terms of signing these goalkeepers because we believe in them.


“Thomas Heward-Belle showed tonight what he's capable of doing, but he's also been playing that way in pre-season, and we know that when a goalkeeper comes in that hasn't played a lot of football, there might be some ups and downs. But the group are there to support him, and so is the club.”

It remains to be seen whether Aloisi will opt to rotate his goalkeepers to assess both players and determine which one he wants to be Western United's permanent number one moving forward. Should Heward-Belle keep delivering performances akin to his AAMI Park display, dropping him will be difficult.


At only 26, Heward-Belle has plenty of time to develop in the A-League Men, particularly as goalkeepers usually reach their full potential later than their outfield counterparts. For now, it seems Aloisi and his coaching staff will give plenty of opportunities to their new goalkeepers and are accepting of mistakes potentially occurring. Ultimately, they will trust their process and believe in their ability to develop Heward-Belle and Matt Sutton into league-quality goalkeepers.


Heward-Belle is another fantastic young goalkeeping product in the A-League Men, and with Socceroo goalkeeper Mathew Ryan now in his thirties, the position's future looks bright. Heward-Belle could be another option alongside Adelaide United’s Joe Gauci and former Melbourne City goalkeeper Tom Glover, who moved to English second-tier side Middlesbrough in the off-season. All could be in the running to take over from Ryan.


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