FC Goa have been found wanting in between the sticks often since Sergio Lobera took charge as head coach but after months of trial and error, the Gaurs seem to have solved their goalkeeping conundrum.
Laxmikant Kattimani was once tagged as one of the best goalkeepers in the Indian Super League by Sergio Lobera. His comments could only be taken as a coach's attempt to motivate his player because the Goan custodian was far from being the league's best goalkeeper. The 29-year-old remained Goa's first-choice goalkeeper for most of the 2017-18 season, even as he continued to commit blunders in goal.
Naveen Kumar stepped into Kattimani's shoes towards the end of the season but even he could not stay mistake-free in a system that is challenging for defenders and goalkeepers. Naveen joined Kerala Blasters and Lalthuammawia Ralte was roped in as a replacement.
Here was a goalkeeper who had started 10 games for Bengaluru FC in the AFC Cup last season and guess who Lobera chose to go with as his first-team goalkeeper at the start of the 2018-19 season? Teenage goalkeeper Mohammad Nawaz.
19-year-old did take time to settle into the team, as expected, but his ability to learn quickly and improve has sealed his place in Goa's starting lineup. Nawaz has started every single match for the Gaurs this season and has made 35 saves, only India internationals Amrinder Singh and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu have more.
The youngster has kept four clean sheets and only Amrinder has more in his kitty. Team-wise, only Bengaluru and ATK have conceded fewer goals than Goa and this is an impressive stat considering how leaky the Goan defence was last season and Nawaz deserves some credit for that as well.
Against Mumbai City on Friday, Goa sealed a 2-0 win and it was not a completely dominant performance. Mumbai had just two shots on target and both would have gone in if not for excellent saves by Nawaz. One of them was a terrific reflex save to keep out Machado's close-range strike with just the goalkeeper to beat.
Mumbai City were without their leading goalscorer Modou Sougou and his absence affected their flow in the attacking third. Arnold Issoko's runs were kept under control and Paulo Machado's influence was minimised and without Mogou to feed the ball to, Mumbai's attack looked toothless, especially in the first half.
There was a period of sustained pressure in the second half by Mumbai City as they desperately searched for an equaliser and it was the sort of situation where Goa usually conceded goals. It has happened plenty of times last season but this time around, Nawaz and the Goa defence were up to the task.