Johannesburg - Protecting the net at all costs, goalkeepers are the backbone of a team.
They play in what is arguably the most important position on the pitch and yet they are often the most unappreciated.
This season has been a tough one for the last line of defence and no one really shone above the rest.
Picking just one deserving goalkeeper of the season was as difficult as finding and capturing the last of the five lions that recently escaped from the Kruger National Park.
Grab the title
Cape Town City’s Shu-Aib Walters should have been a shoo-in to walk away with the award – until he conceded four goals against Polokwane City in the last game of the campaign. This, coupled with another four that he let in against SuperSport United two games prior, dented his chances of walking away with the award.
The 35-year-old veteran goalkeeper was the mainstay of the Citizens, leading from the back and keeping them in the hunt for the title until late in the contest. He is part of the reason they finished third on the log.
Defending best goalkeeper Denis Onyango would have been in pole position to grab the title, but will miss it by a whisker as he does not meet the requirements.
To be considered for the award, one should have played at least 75% of the matches, which is 20 of the 30 league games.
After spending most of his time on the sidelines, Onyango did not reach this target, even after he featured in Sundowns’ last game.
The Ugandan, who walked away with the Confederation of African Football player of the season (based in Africa) accolade, also collected the league player of the month award for April after his sterling performances.
If it were not for the 31-year-old, Sundowns would not have been able to claw their way back into title contention – a lifeline they then went on to lose in the penultimate game. His comeback after a knee injury coincided with the Brazilians winning matches where he kept five clean sheets in as many encounters.
In the 18 games he has featured in this season, Onyango kept 10 clean sheets and let in 12 goals.
Another keeper who will miss out is Moeneeb Josephs, who has played only eight matches.
The 37-year-old paid the price for having received a red card against Cape Town City earlier in the season.
But he came back strongly to reclaim his position towards the end of the season – when it mattered the most – and he propelled Wits towards the summit of the table. He duly walked away with the player of the month for May following his superb showing.
Darren Keet proved to be a capable replacement when he occupied the hot seat. He used his height cleverly to help the Students win crucial matches.
Keet should be a favourite to win the award after helping the Students to the league championship, as he has something to show for his efforts.
Despite Platinum Stars missing out on a top-eight spot, Mbongeni Mzimela is still deserving of the award after keeping 11 clean sheets.
With the most clean sheets – 12 – Patrick Tignyemb has the most impressive statistics of all the league goalkeepers. But the fact that his side was always against the wall and fighting for survival might count against him.
Usual suspect Itumeleng Khune will always be in the running as long as he meets the criteria, which he does.
The Kaizer Chiefs captain has once again demonstrated why he is the country’s number one with stupendous saves that kept Amakhosi in the title race until they fluffed it towards the end.
Chiefs missed him dearly when he was out of action, but he bounced back – although he could not help them challenge for first right up to the end.
Interestingly, most goalkeepers who meet the criteria of having played enough games to qualify find themselves on the wrong end of the table with their clubs fighting for survival.
Thela Ngobeni has done well for Free State Stars, helping his side to safety after not conceding in the last two games of the season.
Overhead kick goal
Polokwane City’s George Chigova is the only goalkeeper to have featured in all his team’s matches so far. Although they have not been as porous as they were previously, Chigova conceded 34 goals and kept 10 clean sheets to help City to their maiden top-eight finish.
Daniel Akpeyi, who missed only two games for Chippa United, has not been too bad either.
He conceded 29 goals for the Chilli Boys and helped the side survive the chop.
The youngest goalkeeper this season, Ajax Cape Town’s Jody February, was let down by inexperience that saw him concede silly goals at times.
But, with age still on his side, he is bound to improve. He has shipped 25 goals and kept six clean sheets in 19 games.
Baroka’s Oscarine Masuluke will not only be remembered for his overhead kick goal against Orlando Pirates, but also for his howler against Mamelodi Sundowns as he missed a back pass that resulted in a goal.
He conceded 29 times and kept seven clean sheets in 26 matches.
He has a chance to help Baroka, who are on the brink of going down, bounce back through the back door that is the playoffs.
But, at 24, he also has age on his side and should be able to improve on his shortcomings if he works hard.