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Apr 6, 2012

Doni's chance to shine

Visibly frustrated during Liverpool's capitulation at Newcastle United, Pepe Reina's attempt to rub foreheads with James Perch was, although foolhardy and naive, somewhat understandable. Attempts to criticize the Newcastle defender for his laughable collapse or lambast the Spaniard for 'lashing out' are - given the now commonplace status of both reactions - as empty and hollow as any rhetoric over other blights on the game such as diving or time-wasting.

The only real problem here comes in the aftermath of the goalkeeper's subsequent red card, which was not appealed by Liverpool and, given how they handled the last one, this can be considered another PR disaster neatly sidestepped. However, not only did it mean Kenny Dalglish's side had to see out the final seven minutes at St James' Park with ten men, but now - thanks to the obligatory ban that follows - robs them of the man who has been arguably the best player at the club over the past seven years.

Given that in that time he has played over 350 games, Liverpool now find themselves in the unfamiliar position of relying on someone else to pull on the gloves. Indeed, Reina is something of an iron man, missing only eight league games in total since arriving from Villarreal in 2005, the last of which was when he was rested for a trip to Portsmouth on 28 April 2007 in preparation for the Champions League final. Unlike many clubs, they do not depend on Reina in the Premier League alone and, since Jerzy Dudek departed for Real Madrid, the likes of Brad Jones, Charles Itange and Diego Cavalieri have started just ten games between them in all competitions.

Now they turn to Alexander Doni, a man whose last action for the club came in October's friendly defeat to Rangers at Ibrox. That he lasted just 56 minutes before succumbing to a dislocated finger does not bode well and many fans will be wondering what to expect from a 32-year-old who joined last July after being given a free transfer by Roma. He became surplus to requirements in the Italian capital following the capture of Maarten Stekelenburg but had become a largely peripheral figure over the previous 18 months and is perhaps only remembered in England as the man who conceded seven goals at Old Trafford in a Champions League tie.

What cannot be overstated, however, is the toll injuries have taken on his career, which prior to 2009 had seen him become one of the highest-rated keepers on the continent and make ten appearances for the Brazilian national team. In both 2007 and 2008, he helped Roma to wins in the Coppa Italia and second place in the league with some consistently excellent displays as he became known for being a reliable shot-stopper with superb instincts.

Doni - described by director of football Damien Comoli as "a very experienced goalkeeper who is used to handling the pressure of big games and international matches with Brazil" - will need all those attributes in what looks set to be a vital period in Liverpool's season. Warming up with Aston Villa's visit to Anfield on Saturday, he will surely be tested much more when the Reds travel to a resurgent Blackburn three days later. Both fixtures pale into insignificance when considering that in just over a week's time there is the small matter of an FA Cup semi-final against Everton at Wembley.

Having played in Rome derbies, the pressure should come as no surprise but the occasion will see him come under extreme scrutiny, particularly behind a porous Liverpool defence that has conceded an average of 11.2 shots per game, the sixth highest total in the Premier League. Like Reina, he is very comfortable with the ball at his feet and possesses good distribution skills as well as being quite confident in dealing with crosses.

At the press conference following his arrival, Doni told reporters: "When I am called upon, I know I have to be ready." It is a statement he must now back up with three big performances before undoubtedly returning to the bench when Reina is once again available. His number 32 shirt will never be a regular sight at Anfield but what happens in his 270 minutes of fame will see him become either the next Massimo Taibi or the new Carlo Cudicini. Over to you, Alexander Doni.

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