The shot-stopper at the navy blue and whites has been well below his best so far this term, but there is no-one pushing for his spot in the starting XI
By Iain Strachan
Nathan Coe is not in danger of being dropped for the visit of Adelaide United on Saturday but only because the Melbourne Victory goalkeeper lacks meaningful competition for his place.
Coe committed a howling error in Geelong last Saturday night, conceding directly from a corner to see Victory go 1-0 down in their AFC Champions League playoff against Muangthong United.
Fortunately for the 29-year-old, his team went on to win the crucial match 2-1 and book their place in the group stage of the competition, sparing him what would have been a week of intense scrutiny.
And as Kevin Muscat indicated on Friday, the goalkeeper's case was helped by the fact fullback Scott Galloway, positioned on the post, also failed to clear the ball.
"We've reviewed that and he wasn't on his own," the Victory coach said when quizzed on Coe's part in the incident.
"There's no suggestion it was directly Coey and solely Coey (at fault).
"That review will stay in house but there were individuals that didn't do their job and collectively we've got to take responsibility for that.
"Everyone had an opportunity to adjust and make sure things were right before it (the corner) was taken.
"Having said that we went on and won the game, so it's a good lesson to learn."
But there is no denying Coe has struggled to convince this season. On several occasions the goalkeeper has made questionable decisions, displaying a tendency to rush out of his area and attempt to clear the ball at the wrong time. He was punished for one such error away to Sydney in Round 5, and has had several other narrow escapes.
The statistics are telling. Victory have conceded 29 goals in 19 matches this season, a record worsened only by neighbours Melbourne Heart (30). The ever-changing defence ahead of Coe can take plenty of blame for that return, but several other teams have conceded a similar number of goals only for their keepers to emerge with more credit than Coe.
Sydney FC (28), Wellington Phoenix (28) and the Newcastle Jets (25) have also been leaky at the back. But Coe trails Vedran Janjetovic, Glen Moss and Mark Birighitti in all the key areas.
He concedes more frequently at once every 59 minutes than any other goalkeeper expect Heart's Andrew Redmayne, has kept the second fewest clean sheets in the league, has the joint lowest save percentage (65.9 percent) and caught the fewest balls.
Coe opts to punch the ball clear more than any other goalkeeper in the league. While that may seem insignificant at first glance, his preference for fisting crosses and corners away rather than gathering them in makes it far more likely for the opposition to regain possession quickly.
Muscat and his backroom staff will of course be well aware of these unflattering numbers. Speaking immediately after the Muangthong match, the Victory coach made no secret of his displeasure at the calamitous error committed by Coe and Galloway.
When asked on Friday if he had thought about dropping Coe, the Victory coach, having been given a week to mull over the issue, said: "I've given consideration to a lot things. Coe made some telling saves for us in that game. At this point in time he is the number one."
It seems unlikely, for this season at least, that Coe will pay the penalty for his uncertain displays between the posts. The primary reason for that is a lack of decent alternatives. The only other keepers on Victory's books are Lawrence Thomas and untested youth teamers.
Thomas started the first two matches of 2013-13 under Ange Postecoglou, a 2-1 derby to defeat to Heart and the 5-0 thrashing away to Brisbane Roar. He was dropped in favour of Tando Velaphi, who also failed to convince, prompting Victory to bring in Coe.
Velaphi was released and moved on to Heart in the off-season, while Thomas survived, but Muscat will not gamble on the 21-year-old unless Coe deteriorates from an occasional hazard to a genuine liability.
In the time being the club must hope the incumbent keeper does not hinder their chances of success in the A-League and AFC Champions League.