Keeper battle will be close call

Phil Smith was Simon Eastwood's understudy for the second half of last season after arriving on a free transfer in December Picture: Joe Pepler
Phil Smith was Simon Eastwood's understudy for the second half of last season after arriving on a free transfer in December Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey's Brett Pitman scores a penalty in the Blues' 1-1 draw against Walsall at Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler/Digital South.

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Phil Smith has been backed to make it a close-run race with new-boy John Sullivan for Pompey’s No1 shirt.

Former Blues shot-stopper Simon Eastwood believes Smith has every chance of starting the season as Guy Whittingham’s first-choice goalkeeper.

Free-agent Smith arrived at Fratton Park in December and was used as back-up for Eastwood as he established himself in goal over the second half of the campaign.

The 33-year-old failed to make a first-team appearance last season, but was handed a one-year deal by Whittingham last month.

He was expected to push Eastwood for the first-team spot in League Two next season, until his shock switch to Blackburn Rovers.

Pompey quickly moved to bring in Sullivan after he was released by Charlton. But goalkeeper coach Alan Knight has already indicated there will be no hierarchy with the keepers when they return for pre-season training at the end of the month.

Smith was playing catch-up for much of last season after not playing any football following his release from Swindon.

But Eastwood feels his former team-mate will benefit from a pre-season this time around – and that will make it a close call for who gets the nod for the season opener.

‘I think Phil will show what a solid keeper he is next season,’ said Eastwood.

‘I think he will give the new guy a bit of pressure.

‘If he gets a full pre-season under his belt he will have a great chance of playing.

‘He works hard every day and it will be a tough one for Guy to decide who he’s going to pick for the first game.

‘Some of the saves he was making in training were really impressive.

‘On top of that, he’s a really good guy who works hard.

‘He’s good to have around the place. I can’t speak highly enough of him.’