Finders keepers could be worth looking out for

Pompey know all too well the benefits of playing against a side with no recognised keeper in reserve, after Sulley Muntari slotted home this penalty past Manchester United's Rio Ferdninand in the FA Cup quarter-final tie at Old Trafford in 2008
Pompey know all too well the benefits of playing against a side with no recognised keeper in reserve, after Sulley Muntari slotted home this penalty past Manchester United's Rio Ferdninand in the FA Cup quarter-final tie at Old Trafford in 2008

COMMENT: A positive start,but the first 100 days may prove crucial

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If it happened today at Fratton Park, it’s unlikely to have been good news for Pompey.

But there is a growing chance that one of the more unusual and chaotic sights in football – and by my own reckoning, one of the most enjoyable – could be spotted during the final few games of the club’s traumatic season.

Players are often asked to play out of position – and Pompey should know all about that, given their financial demise and Michael Appleton’s skeleton squad.

But the possibility of an outfield player being asked to pull on the goalkeeper’s shirt and gloves has now become a genuinely-realistic chance.

Stephen Henderson’s move to West Ham is yet another sad development of Pompey’s financial meltdown and has left the Blues with Jamie Ashdown as the only recognised senior goalkeeper on their books.

Rookie Matt Gledhill is the number one Academy glovesman but is deemed nowhere near ready for the first team.

So Appleton looks like he has decided that he’ll simply ‘risk it for a biscuit’ and keep his fingers crossed that nothing happens to Ashdown between now and the end of the campaign.

Ashdown was an ever-present last term, is a tough old cookie and looked in good nick upon his return to action last weekend at Brighton.

But while it’s certain that none of us of a Pompey persuasion would wish any ill on him, red cards and injuries do happen – just ask Rio Ferdinand, Edwin van der Sar and Tomasz Kuszczak.

England centre-back Ferdinand was the goalkeeper when Sulley Muntari netted that famous penalty at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarter-final in 2008 on the way to Pompey’s Cup success.

Dutch keeper van der Sar had been withdrawn through injury at half-time, his replacement Kusczak was then sent off for bringing down Milan Baros, before Wayne Rooney and Ferdinand then discussed who would take over the gloves for the resulting penalty.

Rio stuck his tongue out trying to save it, but Sulley kept his nerve. The rest is history.

It’s by no means common and seeing the joke stand-in keeper has almost been eradicated in recent times by the increasing number of available substitutes.

This season’s reduction from seven to five on the bench in the Championship has seen some managers take the gamble of not having a sub keeper available – and West Ham’s Henri Lansbury did a fine job in goal recently when Robert Green was sent off.

Appleton revealed that Greg Halford, Joel Ward and Luke Varney would be in line to take over, should anything happen to Ashdown.

Halford has the physique and height and is apparently good at every sport he plays, so looks like a sound choice.

Ward would be a 100-per-center. Having played in just about every other position for the club, he might as well don the gloves as well.

And Varney – who is by no means the sharpest tool in the shed – could profit given the old suggestion that you have to be a bit mentally challenged to be a keeper.

Our old Sunday League side would sometimes get to a point near the end of the season when there was nothing left to play for so we’d mix it up and draw the names out to have a go in different positions.

Getting the gig at right-back in the draw was a blessing, even with unkind suggestions from team-mates that they might actually get to see me make a tackle. They didn’t.

But seeing your normally-tricky winger screaming in terror and flailing wildly as he attempted to collect a cross or then seeing him drop a shoulder and dribble around an onrushing forward was something that still lives on in the memory of those who saw it.

Having been schooled in the art of goalkeeping myself – well, my older brother used to stick me in goal and fire full-blooded shots at me in the back garden – I only ever actually played in goal twice in proper games.

One was a school match where I was injured and couldn’t run.

But because we had only 11 players, I had to go in goal.

We ended up winning 15-1 and I took some serious stick in the minibus on the way home for letting in the one.

Perhaps it’s worth keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t get to see Halford, Ward or Varney wearing an ill-fitting keeper’s shirt and looking like a rabbit in the headlights.

Pompey fielding an outfield player between the sticks is, thankfully, something of a rarity.

But it has happened.

Russell Perrett took the gloves in a memorable clash at Swindon after Iffy Onoura had put Aaron Flahavan in hospital back in 1998-99.

Perrett – a limited stopper of a centre-back – proved a more-than-capable keeper and the large away following of 4,000 cheered his every involvement and then saw their side fight back for a thrilling 3-3 draw.

When Alan Knight had his face rearranged by Wimbledon’s Eric Young in 1987-88, left-back Lee Sandford was the unlucky bloke to be thrown the gloves.

But he excelled and also played his part in a battling 2-2 draw.

Some stand-ins thrive in the spotlight, some look genuinely petrified and some look like they can’t catch a cold, let alone a cross.

Since August 2007, Pompey have used a substitute goalkeeper on only two occasions.

In August 2009, David James was replaced by Asmir Begovic in a 4-1 loss at Arsenal.

And in March 2010, James was again replaced on a dark day for the club at White Hart Lane, with a 2-0 defeat being accompanied by long-term injuries to Hermann Hreidarsson and Danny Webber.

With 10 games left after today, it may not happen, of course.

But amid all of the downbeat news that continues to surround the club, perhaps it’s worth keeping a sense of perspective.

Seeing a player trying their luck at the most specialist position in football tends to bring back an element of comedy to the game which is far too often forgotten these days.

And let’s face it, we could all do with a laugh at the moment.