Pompey revelling in goalkeeping competition

Stephen Henderson
Stephen Henderson
Milan Lalkovic. Picture: Shaun Boggust

Pompey v Walsall: Pre-match talking points

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Stephen Henderson’s encouraging reputation enhances with every first-team appearance.

And Guy Whittingham is convinced Pompey are reaping the rewards from the youngster’s battle with Jamie Ashdown.

The 23-year-old picked up a clean sheet in the goalless draw at Crystal Palace on Tuesday.

His sixth successive league start, it was another assured showing from the summer signing.

Henderson has proven a reliable presence during a run in the side which started just over a month ago following the axing of Ashdown.

And such has been his impressive kicking ability, he even set up a Luke Varney goal against Doncaster.

Watching from the bench has been Ashdown, who made 47 successive Blues league appearances before being dropped for the visit to Elland Road.

Such was the long-serving keeper’s displays last term, he received several player-of-the-season awards.

Yet former rival Darryl Flahavan never made an appearance before leaving in the summer.

Now Henderson has emerged as the Blues’ number one.

Whittingham has certainly been impressed by his displays so far.

But he has stressed competition dictates one false move and Ashdown is ready to return.

He said: ‘I think Stephen has done very well.

‘The most important thing about Henderson and Ashdown is there is now competition for places.

‘Stephen knows he is in the side at the moment.

‘But he has to play well because if he doesn’t we’ve got another goalkeeper with experience of playing in the Championship all year ready to step in. That helps John Keeley in his training, that helps bringing the young kids through, the same as it does to outfield players.

‘It is so important to have that at a football club.

‘I think Stephen’s distribution with the ball is very good, he talks a lot to the back four.

‘You ask anybody back there and they like information about what is going on.

‘He will tell people off if they are not doing things right, his kicking is excellent and he’s had an assist as well.

‘Even against Derby when he lost 3-1 Stephen played a big part in the second half and kept the score down.

‘He won’t be happy because he has conceded three, and goalkeepers will always blame themselves for something, but we’re pleased with the way he played.

‘Stephen has got the shirt and it is up to him to keep it.’

For some, the decision to initially drop Ashdown was a surprise one.

Yet a shaky showing in the 3-2 home defeat by Peterborough proved decisive. That performance was compounded by a Lee Frecklington shot he allowed to squirm out of his hands and over the line.

Nonetheless, Ashdown was one of the outstanding performers of last season.

‘It was a position former boss Steve Cotterill didn’t worry about strengthening.

Yet with competition created this time around, the 30-year-old has found himself toppled.

Whittingham added: ‘Jamie did well last year and is an experienced player. But it is like the rest of them such as Hermann Hreidarsson – everybody will have a part to play this season without a doubt.

‘We had reasonable competition in our squad up until Christmas and then we lost Michael Brown and Richard Hughes.

‘The difference when you don’t have those players is huge.

‘Not only because they are good players but suddenly some of the competition goes. Now that competition is there and we are seeing that with Stephen and Jamie.’