Bring back Bialkowski or stick with Gerken? Hurst has a big decision to make
PUBLISHED: 12:23 11 September 2018 | UPDATED: 15:21 11 September 2018
Paul Hurst has a number of big decisions to make ahead of his side's return to action this weekend, but surely none is bigger than who starts in goal for the visit to Hull.
There were surprises aplenty as the Blues boss made six changes for the derby-clash with Norwich in the final game before the international break, but none grabbed more attention than the bold call to drop star goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski to the bench.
The Pole, who was at the World Cup this summer and returned to sign a bumper new contract to make him one of the club’s highest earners, has clearly not been at his best during the opening weeks of the season.
It’s clear he must take his share of the blame for the Blues’ frailties at set pieces, but it was still a major surprise to see his name appear amongst the substitutes for the biggest game of Hurst’s reign at Portman Road.
It must be said, Dean Gerken performed well in his absence, leaving Hurst with a real decision to make.
“Without being rude to Bart, he’s no different to any other player here and he has to perform to be in the team,” Hurst said after the game.
“I think at this moment in time he hasn’t lived up to that. I can’t keep picking someone when I have someone like Dean Gerken as the other goalkeeper.
“That’s why I went for it and I’m sure Bart will come back and have good games for Ipswich Town in the future, but I’m not sure that’s quite been happening.”
Bialkowski was not called up to the Poland squad for their two games during the international break, meaning he has had two weeks to show Hurst his worth in training.
The Ipswich Town goalkeepers are now working with Darren Smith, who has stepped up into a first-team role following the retirement of Bialkowski’s mentor Malcolm Webster. It’s surely his work on the training ground that holds the key to a potential return this weekend.
But that would be harsh on Gerken, who came in and performed well between the sticks, just as he did in January when he deputised in a 1-0 victory over Leeds as Bialkowski nursed an injury, making one good reaction save and commanding his box well.
It was just his fourth league appearance in the last three seasons for the Blues, having been a regular prior to that since his move from Bristol City in 2013.
Rewind to 2015 and there was nothing to choose between the two Ipswich Town keepers – former boss Mick McCarthy was at pains to make that clear whenever asked about his two stoppers.
After Bialkowski arrived from Notts County in 2014 it was difficult to separate the pair, with the Pole only winning his place originally after Gerken suffered an injury in the warm-up ahead of a game with Blackpool that November.
That theme continued, with Gerken again relinquishing the jersey after being knocked out in the opening minutes of a game at Middlesbrough before the sad passing of his father saw Bialkowski harshly lose his place at the start of the 2015/16 season before Gerken.
But the Pole returned to the side in February 2016 and the rest is history. It sparked an upturn in form which has earned him three-successive player-of-the-year awards and a place in his country’s World Cup squad.
The stunning form of Bialkowski, which rightly saw him labelled as one of the Championship’s best, has made it easy to forget Gerken’s past Ipswich Town contributions, but the former Colchester man has not let the Blues down.
Hurst has been keen to stress his players need to prove their worth all over again following his appointment, with past performances and reputations counting for nothing.
Dropping Bialkowski made that point loud and clear.
Whether it gets the intended reaction will hold the key to whether he returns or whether Gerken gets a continued chance to impress.