Wilson’s Wisdom: Goalkeeper showed the value in pre-season efforts

Stephen Henderson
Stephen Henderson
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Just as the weather heats up. pre-season starts.

It doesn’t seem long ago that Pompey waved goodbye to the 2014-15 season.

But we will all get a glimpse of the future on Saturday when Paul Cook’s side play their first friendly at the Hawks.

It’s often hard to draw too many conclusions from pre-season.

Yes, you might look for clues on how good a new signing might be or get a rough idea on the manager’s preferred formation.

But these matches are light years away from what we can expect on August 8 at home to Dagenham & Redbridge.

The intensity just isn’t there. That drive and motivation to win is way down on what it will be when August rolls around.

Managers always bang the drum about these matches being used purely for fitness and generally don’t care about the results.

But while the players themselves are keen to use their opportunity to get themselves into peak condition, you can be sure the battle for selection has already started in their heads.

Some will certainly be taking these games very seriously indeed.

Back in 2011, goalkeeper Stephen Henderson had just joined Pompey and boss Steve Cotterill was keen to point out his arrival was to add competition and cover for Jamie Ashdown.

Henderson –an Irishman who was about as laid-back as you can find off the pitch – had other ideas.

That summer, Cotterill took the squad to Charleston and kindly allowed two reporters from The News to tag along.

On the flight over, with many of his team-mates opting to pay the extra fee for business class, Henderson had the dubious honour of sitting next to me in cattle class.

Surprisingly, he didn’t ask to be moved and even offered me a few of his Skittles.

But even in our brief chats, you got the impression he hadn’t come to sit on the bench at Pompey.

Sure enough, in the team’s first training session at Charleston Battery, Henderson made it quite clear he had his eyes on the goalkeeping spot for himself.

As the team were put through shooting drills, under the watchful gaze of Cotterill, Stuart Gray and Guy Whittingham, he pulled off a string of blinding stops.

One finger-tip save from a drilled Liam Lawrence effort that was spearing into the bottom corner was extraordinary.

Lawrence fired a four-letter insult at his new team-mate, while goalkeeping coach Jon Keeley bellowed his appreciation.

Gray and Cotterill exchanged knowing glances and nods.

Henderson continued that same form into one of the friendlies that were played at the same venue with an incredible reflex stop from a point-blank header.

Although Ashdown started that season in goal, it wasn’t long before Henderson was in.

He would surely have stayed there for the long-term if the club hadn’t gone into financial meltdown and shipped him out.

No doubt other new signings are putting their own markers down in training and will want to do the same when the games start.

Those who prefer to go through the motions may find themselves down the pecking order when the real thing starts.