Released and Re-signed? The 2024 Goalkeeper Edition:

By Luke Payne, Feature Writer

Luke follows on from his very popular article from last season..

With The Dons signing their first player for the new season, now is the perfect time to get started on the return of the released and re-signed series. I may have missed out on writing about Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, but in truth, I never would’ve predicted he would sign for us. He looks like a top addition for the midfield, but this first article talks about potential goalkeeper signings. As ever, the only players listed are those who are out of contract. Some may have been offered new deals, but at the time of writing, all seven players will have been available on a free transfer.

The goalkeeping situation at Dons is a weird one. Craig MacGillivray and Nathan Harness are on the books but Mike Williamson seemed keen on bringing in a more natural ball-playing keeper. This decision saw both MacGillivray and Harness leave on loan to Stevenage and Gateshead respectively. It remains to be seen whether the search for a new No.1 will continue as MacGillivray is a fantastic option for a League Two keeper but he isn’t the most comfortable when it comes to passing out from the back. Finding out of contract keepers that are good with their feet has proven to be a tricky task but I’ve done my best to compile a list of players that could do the job. Without further ado, here are my seven potential goalkeeper signings:

  1. Luke Southwood:

Surprisingly the first two players on this list also featured on last year’s edition of Released and Re-signed. The first of these is Cheltenham keeper Luke Southwood. Despite their relegation from League One, The Robins have offered a new contract to Southwood. The 26 year old played all 46 league games in the season just gone, securing 11 clean sheets in the process…not a bad return for a team that couldn’t beat the drop. He also played every game for Cheltenham in the previous season, picking up another 16 clean sheets. Having come through Reading’s academy, this move would make sense from a geographical point of view as well.

Now here’s the catch. In Cheltenham’s final league game against Stevenage, Southwood went off injured with a broken leg which means he would definitely miss the start of the season. If The Dons were to keep MacGillivray this would be perfectly fine as he could start the season as first choice keeper and the pair could battle it out for the No.1 spot once Southwood returns. However if MacGillivray were to depart, it would leave Dons in the hands of back-up keeper Harness. It would be very risky to start the season with a keeper that lost his place in the squad to Michael Kelly who was only supposed to be an emergency signing. 

  • Jamal Blackman:

Jamal Blackman also featured in this article last year after picking up 10 clean sheets for Exeter. In the end he moved to Burton where he was supposed to be Craig MacGillivray’s replacement. Blackman started the first couple of games but picked up a short-term injury against Shrewsbury. Max Crocombe took over in Blackman’s absence and did a good enough job to keep the starting spot for the rest of the season. This does mean that Blackman has been a benchwarmer, only making four league appearances. On the upside, the 30 year old hasn’t dropped as low as League Two since the 2016/17 season when he had a loan spell at Wycombe which would suggest that he’s still a top quality keeper for this level.

Having started his career at Chelsea, a move to Milton Keynes would Blackman closer to home. With this being said it doesn’t seem like travelling is a problem for him as he had a spell with Los Angeles FC in the USA in 2021. It’s worth noting that a lot of his former clubs aren’t typically considered to be ball-playing sides so it might not be the best stylistic fit. However if MacGillivray were to leave the club, Blackman could probably match his standard at the very least.

  • Matt Macey:

Next on the list is another keeper that’s spent this season as a back-up. Naturally, there aren’t many first choice keepers getting released that would be good with their feet in addition to being a top shot-stopper, it’s either one or the other in most cases. This means that a few of the players on this list will be the second choice from a higher division team. In Matt Macey’s case, he was the second choice keeper for League One champions Portsmouth. However, he was only there from January onwards having failed to find a club when Luton released him back in September. Macey does have a reasonable amount of experience playing in League One, having been on loan at Portsmouth the previous season in addition to a loan spell with Plymouth in 2018/19. 

Now aged 29, Macey may be looking for a chance to settle somewhere as a first choice keeper and MK Dons could be the place to do that. He came through Arsenal’s academy and has spent most of his career playing for southern teams. There was a time where he was being considered for Arsenal’s first team which would suggest that he’s capable of playing out from the back. Perhaps risky given his lack of play time, but if Macey could be tempted to drop to League Two he could be a fantastic option!

  • Ben Amos:

From an optimistic pick to an extremely optimistic one! Ben Amos has been released from Wigan having lost his place in the starting XI to Sam Tickle. Amos was limited to appearances in the EFL Trophy in the season just gone. He spent all the other games sat on the bench. However, the 34 year old still has plenty of talent and would be a marquee signing if he could be tempted into playing in League Two. In the 2021/22 season, Amos was Wigan’s first choice keeper as they won promotion to the Championship. He has plenty of Championship experience as well, playing for the likes of Bolton, Hull, Cardiff and Millwall in addition to Wigan. There’s no denying that he’s a fantastic shot-stopper.

It seems likely that he would be good playing the ball out from the back, not just due to his experience in higher divisions but also because of his background. Amos came through Man United’s academy and spent a number of years as their third choice keeper. What makes this move seem unlikely is his limited time playing down south, having only spent a couple of seasons in London for Millwall, and later Charlton. Given Amos’ pedigree it would be difficult to bring him down to League Two, especially whilst playing further away from home, but it would be a huge statement of intent and a massive coup for the club if he signed. 

  • Neil Etheridge:

This is probably the most unrealistic signing on the list and that’s saying something given that the previous player was Ben Amos. However, Neil Etheridge has spent the last couple of seasons sitting on Birmingham’s bench and now finds himself without a club. He only made two league appearances in the 2023/24 season. This is a huge fall from grace as in 2018/19, he was Cardiff’s starting keeper in the Premier League. Since Etheridge was the back-up keeper for a team that got relegated to League One, it seems unlikely that he’ll get a move back to the Championship now. The question is just how far he will fall in order to get minutes on the pitch.

There’s a good chance that a League One club with a big budget will go for Etheridge as they could probably give him a decent wage but if there’s a chance for Dons to strike a deal it would be superb business. Etheridge is also a seasoned international and is the current captain of the Philippines. Leadership at the back is something that Dons have been missing with Dean Lewington playing fewer games and Etheridge would easily fill that void. This move would make a lot of sense geographically since Etheridge came through at Fulham’s academy after a few years at Chelsea. I’ll be the first to admit I would be shocked if Dons were to pull off a signing this big, but we can always dream…

  • Callum Burton:

Now we’re crashing back down to Earth with a more realistic option. Callum Burton is yet another keeper that’s spent the season as a back-up, with his only appearances in the last 12 months coming in the EFL Cup. Burton has spent half the season on Plymouth’s bench and the other half not even making it onto Plymouth’s bench. This doesn’t sound all that positive but if we were to sign someone like Burton, it would be with the idea that MacGillivray remains as first choice keeper, but Burton comes in to challenge him for the No.1 spot. He has more EFL experience than Harness, playing in League One for Plymouth as well as for Cambridge in League Two. The 27 year old wouldn’t exactly be a perfect solution to the goalkeeping situation, but it would prevent things from getting out of hand like they did last season. 

  • Max Stryjek:

The final player on this list is the only one to have played any games in League Two last season. Max Stryjek played 33 league games in League One for Wycombe before losing his place to former Don Franco Ravizzoli. He was then sent to Crewe towards the end of the season on an emergency loan, playing their final three league games as well as the play-offs. The 27 year old only kept seven clean sheets in League One but did manage to keep a clean sheet in one of the play-off games against Doncaster before proceeding to help Crewe win a penalty shootout to reach Wembley.

Stryjek probably isn’t quite as strong as MacGillivray though he would be a suitable replacement if the latter decided to leave the club. The disappointing thing about this would be that Dons let Ravizzoli leave the club as a free agent and he’s turned out to be a very handy player, so it’s a wasted opportunity on that front. It’s also hard to tell how Stryjek would do in a ball-playing system as both Crewe and Wycombe are more direct in their styles of play.

Special Mentions and the Verdict:

What we’ve discovered from the goalkeeper search is that it’s incredibly difficult to get a ball-playing goalkeeper cheaply. The likes of Neil Etheridge and Ben Amos would be the picks of the bunch but would be very hard to bring down to League Two and would likely need huge wages if they did decide to drop. There’s also the risk of signing keepers that have barely played over the last year. Other options included Jordan Archer (QPR) and Bartosz Bialkowski (Millwall) but they’re more of the same, keepers that used to be starters in higher divisions but have found minutes hard to come by in recent times. Luke Southwood would be my personal pick despite his current injury as he’s a top player with huge potential. Signing him would also mean that Cheltenham can’t have him, therefore weakening divisional rival. Unless Williamson can get Southwood, I would expect any incomings for the goalkeeper position to be loans or purchases.

I hope you enjoyed the first article of the released and re-signed series. Next time I’ll be covering the wingbacks so be sure to look out for that article in the near future! Thank you for reading!

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