Home Premier League Don’t blame Kaminski for Luton’s struggles – he is the best shot-stopper in the Premier League

Don’t blame Kaminski for Luton’s struggles – he is the best shot-stopper in the Premier League

by Hataf Finance
14 minutes read

When Luton Town goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski steps out onto a football pitch, he leans forward, swipes his right glove over the grass and does the Christian sign of the cross.

The Belgian, who is yet to make an appearance for his national team despite numerous call ups, has been blessing himself in the same way for 14 years. He grew up going to church regularly and when he made his senior debut with Germinal Beerschot in his home country, this small tradition began.

And now, after three seasons in the Championship with Blackburn Rovers, Kaminski, 31, has brought his ritual to the Premier League. As he left the pitch on Sunday following Luton’s 3-1 defeat away at Aston Villa, he crossed himself again.

Moments before he did, he was consoled by back-up goalkeeper Tim Krul. The Dutchman has played 222 games in the Premier League at Newcastle United and Norwich City. His tap on the back of Kaminski’s head told us that he knew exactly how his team-mate felt.

Kaminski has conceded 20 goals in ten games. A clean sheet has proved elusive. “It was a tough day at the office,” he recognised after Luton’s seventh loss. It is unlikely to be the last time he says that.

However, despite the fact he is yet to earn a first shutout, Kaminski is statistically the league’s best-performing shot-stopper in terms of the number of goals prevented (3.82) this season.

This metric was calculated using xGOT which means ‘expected goals on target’ and is a variant of expected goals (xG). It defines the quality of on-target shots by taking into account angles and placement.

Kaminski has faced 55 shots on target, which is the sixth most in the league. Yet what stands out is the quality of shots that he has faced. His average xGOT per shot on target faced is around 0.41 which is the highest in the division.

This means when Kaminski has been called into action this season, the shots he has been facing have been more difficult to stop.

“Even though he is performing at a high level, he has had very little hope (of saving) the goals he has been conceding,” boyhood Luton fan and former England goalkeeper David James says.

“He’s made some fantastic saves and I hope he stays positive because having been in relegation battles before, it is so easy to lose that positivity.”

Two of those saves came against Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins early in the first half on Sunday. Such was the speed of play, Kaminski was unable to remember how exactly he pulled off the instinctive double save.

James thinks that the quality of Matty Cash’s cross into Watkins highlights how much more difficult it is to keep clean sheets in the Premier League than the Championship.

However, Kaminski reacted superbly to deny the in-form England international a goal.

Villa’s first goal came from a set piece which had Luton defending deep inside their own box. But Douglas Luiz caught them out by playing the ball directly to John McGinn on the edge of the box, who shifted it to his right before planting a shot past Kaminski.

For Villa’s second goal, it was a quality cross which troubled Luton again. Lucas Digne curved a ball over and Kaminski took a step towards it before retreating back to cover against Leon Bailey at the back post.

Bailey then headed it into the path of Moussa Diaby, who stuck the ball in the opposite corner.

“Observe, decide and react is what we used to talk about,” says James, who played 572 Premier League games (the most of any goalkeeper). “You see the cross, you make a decision on what you are going to do with it and then third thing is you react.

“The reaction might be to come out and take it or to stay. He’s decided (to go) but made the right reaction to go back. The hope then is it’s dealt with in the middle by the defenders.”

Villa’s third goal starts with a long ball over the top from Boubacar Kamara into Diaby. Kaminski goes towards Diaby as the immediate goalscoring danger even though Watkins is unmarked in the middle, and the ball is eventually turned in by Luton defender Tom Lockyer.

“Again, I don’t think that’s a mistake,” James says. “The issue for Luton at the moment is they are conceding a lot of goals and hopefully in time their defenders will get to (grips with) the speed of the opposition. Situations like this simply show Aston Villa’s strike force is at a higher quality than Luton’s defending. And unfortunately for Kaminski, he’s the guy who is behind it all.”

His own team-mates are aware of the pressure on him.

“It is probably the toughest position on the pitch because you are just alone and at the mercy of the rest of your team and your defence,” Luton’s Gabriel Osho, who made his Premier League debut at Villa Park, said. “I don’t envy TK at all.”

“He is someone who is always positive on and off the field,” said holding midfielder Marvelous Nakamba. “At this point now, I feel for him.”

Even so, Kaminski remains unfazed and is looking forward to the next game, at Kenilworth Road against Liverpool, on November 5 and the one after at Old Trafford against Manchester United on November 11.

“You prefer it as a goalkeeper,” he said when asked if he had enjoyed his busy introduction to the league. “Then you can focus 100 per cent. You can be tested at any second so I prefer it like that — but I prefer to get points as well.”

Adding to their five-point tally is going to be difficult but Kaminski is relishing the challenge.

“You want to test yourself against the best players in the world,” Kaminski said in the knowledge that next up is Mohamed Salah and company, followed by Marcus Rashford and friends.

James can remember former Portsmouth goalkeeping coach David Coles pretending to be Fernando Torres and Cristiano Ronaldo in training in the build up to those sort of games.

“Have Luton got someone who is going to replicate Salah in training? Respectfully, no,” he says. “But David Coles was Ronaldo one week, I laugh thinking about it. When I walked off the training field I was saying ‘He thinks he’s Ronaldo’. But what I didn’t realise is what David was doing.

“When we played Liverpool and Manchester United, I found myself familiar with the positions that I needed to be in. Goalkeeping coaching is complex, it isn’t just about volleying and crossing balls at people.”

James adds: “With Kaminski I like what I see. He is a very capable goalkeeper and given the right coaching he could arguably be the difference between Luton going down or staying up.”

(Top photo: Jacques Feeney/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

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