There was one moment during Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Burnley that summed up why Brighton and Hove Albion are going to stay in the Premier League this season.
Midway through the first half and an almighty goalmouth scramble was going on in the Albion box, the sort of scene that the Benny Hill theme music was made for. Legs were flailing everywhere, nobody could clear the ball or get it goalwards and then in the melee, Jack Cork managed to dangle out a leg and prod it towards the line.
It’s going in, no doubt about it. Maty Ryan and Gaetan Bong have ended up in a heap on the ground and there is nothing between ball and goal. That is until out of the pile of bodies, an orange-clad arm comes up, extends itself as if it were a limb belonging to Stretch Armstrong and not an Australian goalkeeper and somehow manages to reach and scoop the ball off the line with millimetres to spare.
That single moment was this Albion team in a nutshell. Never giving up and putting everything into the cause. One fibre-busting arm extension from Ryan was the difference between a hard-earned point at Turf Moor and coming away with nothing.
It also summed up Ryan in a nutshell. In a squad that quite clearly cares passionately about the club they represent, it says much that he is arguably the most passionate of the lot. There’s the celebrations whenever we score at the Amex when he runs the length of the pitch and the way he is always last off the pitch and always makes time to go and speak – actually speak – to supporters in the North Stand after the game.
For me, he’s been Brighton’s player of the season. As good as Pascal Gross, who was voted the supporters' player of the season, and Lewis Dunk, who took players' player, have been. Ryan has won us more points than anyone else and you can count his bad games on one hand – arguably, there have only been two – at home to Manchester City and in the debacle at Crystal Palace a fortnight ago.
The reason he probably didn’t win the award is because goalkeepers very rarely do pick up individual awards. I can’t think of an Albion goalkeeper ever winning it, despite the popularity that former custodians such as Michel Kuipers and Ben Roberts had. On a larger scale, only one goalkeeper has ever won the Ballon d’Or. Answers on a postcard if you know who that was.
You’d have got long odds on this Ryan-love in at the start of the season. He was too short, not confident enough or not up to the physicality of English football depending on whose opinion you read. Which just goes to show one swallow does not make a summer, nor does getting nutmegged by Sergio Aguero make you a bad goalkeeper.
Remember when David De Gea first rocked up at Manchester United and was nearly laughed out of Old Trafford in his first season? Nobody is laughing now at the Spaniard who is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world.
It would be a stretch to say that Ryan isn’t far behind him, but in the Premier League it is hard to think of many who have been so impressive this season. That probably says more about the standard of goalkeeping this year, with the likes of Petr Cech, Hugo Lloris, Thiabut Courtois and most noticeably Joe Hart having disappointing seasons by their normal high standard.
That means that you could make an argument for Ryan being in the top seven or eight in the division. And if he is in the top seven or eight in the division, it means that a bigger club might soon come sniffing. Forget worrying about losing Lewis Dunk, Ryan’s departure to one of the big boys would come as far more of a blow but less of a surprise after the season he has had. He’s still only 26 as well, don’t forget, so at least four years away from the sort of age where goalkeepers peak. Scary.
So cross your fingers people and pray that his performances have gone under the radar. Without him, things could look very different in terms of which division we’d be playing our football in in 2018-19. That’s why Maty Ryan should be player of the season.
* (The only goalkeeper to win the Ballon d’Or was Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union in 1963. If Australia win the World Cup, we’ll stick a fiver on Ryan being the second).