Eastwood continues his rise to number one

Simon Eastwood shone again. Picture: David Hurst
Simon Eastwood shone again. Picture: David Hurst
Pompey boss Kenny Jackett. Picture: Joe Pepler

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When a goalkeeper is a team’s best player, it usually means a series of flying, last-ditch saves.

But Guy Whittingham paid tribute to Simon Eastwood’s performance in the 1-1 draw with Preston as the caretaker Blues boss recognised his keeper’s part in a dogged defensive showing.

While the former Halifax man made saves when required, it was more his command of the penalty area and his handling of crosses that saw him stand out at Deepdale.

And it seems that Whittingham is becoming increasingly convinced he has his number one goalkeeper for next season – if everything pans out as he hopes it will.

Whittingham said: ‘Eastie has really grown as a goalkeeper and it’s been fantastic to see it.

‘He has got confidence from his own performances but everybody has grown in confidence from our past eight or nine performances.

‘They can all see that there is a real team coming together and Simon is a big part of that.

‘Eastie feels that he has got a couple of centre-backs in front of him who will do everything they can to protect him and get their heads on things.

‘But he also knows he has to do his bit when they get through.

‘He looks like a different goalkeeper these days and has been doing really well for us.

‘Alan Knight has worked well with him and spoken highly of him but I think Simon is improving all the time and much of that is down to him.

‘I told him afterwards that I thought he was excellent but it wasn’t just his saves.

‘It makes such a difference to a defence when a goalkeeper is coming out and taking crosses as he did.’

While Eastwood is not tall for a goalkeeper, his athleticism more than makes up for that.

And the number of high balls he collected above team-mates and opponents suggests his confidence is soaring.

Whittingham said: ‘What really impressed me about Simon was his bravery.

‘We knew he was a very good shot-stopper before but he has come on in leaps and bounds in coming for crosses.

‘He did so well in coming out to collect the ball because they put an awful lot of crosses into our box.

‘He punched a couple well and caught a few very well under big pressure. It was a big part of what I thought was a good defensive performance.

‘We know we weren’t at our best but you have to dig in when you play like that.

‘It shows a team ethic that has developed and it’s great that everbody has bought into it.’

Whittingham was also impressed with the way his side regrouped after the disappointment of conceding the equaliser with 13 minutes left.

He said: ‘When they scored with 15 minutes to go, I was expecting an onslaught but we stood up to that really well and that shows that we have a bit of character these days. We don’t just fold any more.

‘Before we came to Preston North End, if someone had offered me a point, I think I would be quite pleased with that.’