Everton Ladies goalkeeping coach Jen Herst insists Toffees number one Kirstie Levell must be ranked among the top young keepers in the country.
The 21-year-old was in excellent form to keep Chelsea at bay in Sunday’s FA Women’s Cup tie, beaten only by a pinpoint Drew Spence strike in the second half, then Emma Blundell’s tap in in added time as Everton were chasing the game in Southport.
Levell’s performance was in keeping with her high standards all season, with the custodian regularly catching the eye with her shot-stopping prowess.
With the likes of Manchester City’s Ellie Roebuck, Sophie Baggaley of Bristol City and Yeovil’s Megan Walsh all enjoying regular football for their clubs, there is a healthy crop of young English talent in the goalkeeping position.
However, Herst is adamant that Levell belongs in the discussion about top young prospects.
“Kirstie is showing the type of form that pushes her into the mix regards who the best young keeper is in this division,” she said. “I have been really impressed with her. The game with Arsenal back in mid-November really kicked her on in terms of people starting to notice her performances. Since then she has got stronger and stronger.
“There are a lot of strong young goalkeepers out there but Kirstie is performing week in and week out and proving herself. She works very hard on the training ground and that is showing in her performances. So long as she keeps that work ethic, she’ll only improve.
“When you look at the majority of her saves this season, she has made them from a deep position. There are styles of goalkeeping. You have got a style - with origins in South America and Spain - that you see in the likes of David de Gea or Hugo Lloris where the position they make the save is on their goalline or near enough. You need quick feet and agility to play that way because it's more about getting across quickly and making the save. That’s Kirstie’s style.”
Levell is widely recognised as one of the hardest workers on the training pitches at USM Finch Farm. At 22, there is much more to come from the young keeper and Herst is excited about her potential.
She has seen first hand the improvements Levell has made so far this season both within her own game and understanding her role within manager Willie Kirk’s side.
“We have identified her strengths and we have worked on them,” added Herst. "Kirstie has really quick feet and is really agile. It is about using those as much as we can. In terms of her positioning, we can put her a little bit further back in the goal because, thanks to her quick feet, she has more time to react and make the save.
“We have also done a lot of work around her starting more aggressively to defend the space in behind the defence. We know, because her feet are so good, that she can start a little bit higher up the pitch and get herself back in quickly to defend the goal.
“We have just made sure that we have given her the confidence and the belief that she is good enough to do that. In the past, she has been a little bit concerned about playing that way.
“A lot of Kirstie’s work at Finch Farm also centres how she integrates into the wider team and how Willie wants her to play alongside the defence. She is always working on those relationships with her defenders and getting used to a back four again having spent a lot of time playing with a back three in recent seasons.
“It is obviously vital she knows her role within that and the areas she needs to defend within that system. That aggressive position allows our defence to play with a higher line because they know Kirstie will be behind them and we are starting to use her more to play out from the back.
“She just needs to carry on like she has been doing. It’s as simple as that. She works very hard on the training ground and that is showing in her performances. So long as she keeps that work ethic, she’ll only improve.”