PREVIEW: Accrington Stanley vs Bristol Rovers
DAVE Beasant believes the sky is the limit for Bristol Rovers' on-loan goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.
The 22-year-old Fulham player and Philippines international has created an excellent impression since being signed by Mark McGhee last month and will again be between the posts at Accrington Stanley tomorrow.
Beasant, the club's part-time goalkeeping coach, rates Etheridge, pictured, a top prospect and has not been in the least surprised by how quickly he has settled in.
"I have known Neil for years from when I was at Fulham and he was coming through the youth ranks," said the man whose illustrious playing career spanned 23 seasons and brought two England caps plus a famous FA Cup final victory for Wimbledon against Liverpool in 1988.
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"I actually spoke to him before the start of this season to see if he was available for loan and since he has come to Rovers he has demonstrated what a good keeper he is.
"Neil has good agility and natural spring and his reactions are very sharp. He is a decent size for a keeper and when he moves around his goal he is compact, with the ability to go down and get up again quickly.
"He has good hands and bags of confidence. It's not arrogance, but when you come from a Premier League club, as Neil has done, you want to show why you are at that level.
"I look at him and don't necessarily see a fault there, but I am living proof that you never stop learning at this game.
"Even when I was still playing at 42 there were new experiences for me every week so you never should reach the stage where you are not prepared for something to surprise you."
Etheridge has already appeared in nearly 40 internationals for the Philippines, one of them a South East Asia Cup semi-final against Indonesia drawing a six-figure attendance.
"Neil keeps telling everyone about that 100,000 crowd – that's when he is not talking about his modelling career," smiled Beasant.
"He has a lot of international experience for a 22-year-old and, while it is a long way to go to play football at that level, it will certainly benefit him as his career progresses."
Beasant believes Etheridge has done the right thing in dropping temporarily into League Two at a time when he would at best be playing reserve football for Fulham.
"Coming to Rovers will be great for Neil because he is in an environment where he will play plenty of first team games," he said.
"It's all very well being at a Premier League club for the profile it brings and the money, but the type of experience he needs only comes from playing in competitive matches.
"You can work hard in training, which is what we do, but the decisions you have to make in fractions of a second as a goalkeeper, like coming for crosses or advancing to a forward who is clean through, can only be learned about in actual match situations.
Beasant is loving every minute of his association with Rovers, which began in August.
"Mark McGhee is great and I worked with Shaun North before at Portsmouth so I've known him a long time," he said.
"It's nice to be involved at a club. I've often said that when I came in to training each day as a player I always had a smile on my face.
"There are still a lot of smiles here, even though we all recognise that things could be going better. Hopefully, when all the injuries clear up we will see a big difference."