If the measure of a good goalkeeper is the number of points he earns for his side over a season, Hull City have a very capable figure in the shape of Allan McGregor, who was in fine form in Saturday's dire 0-0 draw at home to West Brom.
With penalty saves alone, the Scot has been solely responsible for some of City's 13 Premier League points so far. On the opening day of the season, McGregor was to thank when he kept out Charlie Austin's spot kick as City squeezed out a 1-0 win at QPR and on Saturday, against another relegation rival, he was the saviour once more.
Pushing away Graham Dorrans' early spot kick to keep West Brom at bay, McGregor ensured a difficult afternoon for his side was not made worse at the KC Stadium. Without that save and others, most notably a superb stop to thwart Craig Gardner's free kick, City could have stumbled to a confidence-sapping defeat. And a 0-0 draw felt bad enough.
McGregor continues to represent excellent value for money in goal. Signed for just 1.8 million pounds from Turkish side Besiktas 18 months ago, he has consistently been a steady influence during the club's Premier League days. But for injuries and suspensions, he would have played far more than the 36 times he has managed to date.
That McGregor was the hero against West Brom told of an uninspired occasion over the weekend. The Tigers were bereft of drive and potency in a fixture that was set up for a timely victory over an equally out-of-sorts opponent and, in the end, were grateful for a point.
The draw, City's seventh of the season, invited manager Steve Bruce to move back to the drawing board. The 1-1 at Everton three days earlier had suggested a corner had been turned but the evidence was less convincing against the Baggies. Although there was no faulting the commitment of Bruce's men, the blunt attacking edge to their game was concerning.
Bruce must be wondering where to go from here because the balance of his side is not quite right. The same midfield that had frustrated Everton -- David Meyler, Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore and Stephen Quinn -- lacked the creativity to pick apart West Brom. Passing was one-paced and predictable, failing to trouble a guest not without defensive faults.
That midfield will be well-suited to travel to away games, including this weekend's daunting assignment at Chelsea, but when the onus is on City at the KC Stadium there needs to be more. Bruce's problem is that few players in his squad are consistently performing to the level when their inclusion is a given. McGregor, Michael Dawson and Ahmed Elmohamady are perhaps the only three that select themselves on current form. That has seen Bruce start 22 different players since City last won on Oct. 4 and a lack of continuity is helping no one.
Bruce commented recently that Robert Snodgrass' season-ending injury would ensure he would be unable to name his strongest side all year. What it is in the Scot's absence, however, remains to be seen. Ten supporters might well provide 10 different answers with the halfway point of the campaign approaching.
There is patience afforded to Bruce by a group of fans appreciative of his efforts over the past two and a half years, but there are signs of restlessness creeping into City's campaign. Boos and jeers, albeit far from unanimous, could be heard on the full-time whistle on Saturday and Bruce admitted afterwards that he understood the frustrations.
As the Premier League table underlines, this is not how this season was supposed to work out for City. After twice breaking their transfer record in the summer and spending close to 40 million pounds, there was an expectation for last season's FA Cup finalists to be comfortable, if nothing else.
Not so. Back in the bottom three and unlikely to escape this weekend when travelling to Chelsea, the season is presenting unforeseen challenges for Bruce. Unlike other teams around them, West Brom for one -- who were vocally opposed to their boss Alan Irvine on Saturday -- City are at least blessed with a pleasing sense of togetherness on the back of eight games without a victory.
An extended period in the relegation places would test that unity, however, making the final three games of 2014 vitally important.
After Chelsea this weekend it is home games with Swansea and Leicester sandwiching a Boxing Day trip to Sunderland. Five points from those three games must be the minimum aim for a side in City's position.