Neil Warnock rates Paddy Kenny as “the best there is” in goalkeeping terms. So Jamie Ashdown comes to Leeds United forewarned about the role he will play next season.
Kenny was one of the key signings targeted by Warnock this summer and, barring injury or a chronic loss of form, there is no question of United’s manager turning to another keeper while the pursuit of promotion from the Championship goes on.
Ashdown, who joined Leeds as a free agent on Monday, is wise enough to understand that he might find himself labelled in a way most keepers try to avoid – cover. He has experienced this scenario before, famously stuck behind David James at Portsmouth, and by his own admission has “not been able to play as many games as he would have liked”.
He is, nonetheless, ready to give Kenny a run for his money.
The 31-year-old can take a certain amount of encouragement from Warnock’s persistence in trying to sign him and a shift in his manager’s attitude to substitute keepers. Warnock was on the phone constantly in the fortnight before Ashdown arrived – not pestering but always in touch – and the effort made in securing cover for Kenny should reassure the keeper that he is needed.
In his short time as Leeds boss last season, Warnock did not name a keeper on his bench. His thinking was so ingrained that he sent Paul Rachubka on loan to Leyton Orient, leaving Alex Cairns as the only alternative to Andy Lonergan at a time when the emergency loan market was closed.
The Football League’s decision to increase the number of substitutes in matchday squads from five to seven has allowed Warnock to revise that policy and Ashdown will be assured of at least a seat in the dug-out next season. The challenge for him is to make more of his transfer than that.
“I’ll be pushing to play, definitely,” Ashdown said. “Goalkeepers always have this challenge – there aren’t many of us who come to a club with the intention of sitting back and taking it easy.
“I understand my role at the moment but I haven’t come here thinking I’ll just sit on the bench. That’s the wrong attitude and you won’t get into the team if you don’t think it’s possible.
“In my eyes goalkeeping is all about consistency. Managers want their keepers to be reliable and you’ve got more chance of forcing your way in if you work hard and perform as you should.
“Put a few good games together and you’re going to stay in the team. But I do know the situation and I know that Paddy will be looking to play too. The challenge is there.”
United’s training session in Cornwall on Monday morning was Ashdown’s first as a contracted player for 12 weeks – the timespan between him parting company with Portsmouth and deciding on a move to Elland Road.
He completed the second half of Leeds’ friendly at Tavistock on Monday and was involved from the start against Bodmin Town yesterday after Kenny pulled a thigh muscle in training. Warnock already sees him as a safe pair of hands.
“I spoke to Jamie a few weeks ago and he has known of my interest for a while,” the United manager said. “He was training with Middlesbrough and talking to one or two other clubs but I really wanted him to sign and commit himself to us.
“He’s got a good presence and he has seen it all and done it all. It should be great for Paddy having him here.”
Ashdown began his career at Reading and his CV shows short stints on loan with Arsenal and Norwich City but he made his name and the bulk of his senior appearances during eight years as a Portsmouth player.
In that time he saw the best and worst of the Fratton Park club – their Premier League years and their FA Cup win but also the financial crisis which has placed the club in administration and on the verge of liquidation. The club now say they will go out of business by August 10 if certain high-earning players do not agree to leave or take pay cuts.
Ashdown was active in the fight for survival, donating £1,000 to a fund-raising drive instigated by the Pompey Supporters Trust and encouraging other players to do the same. The squad at Fratton Park agreed to defer wages owed though the situation has not improved because of it.
With his contract up, his plan at the end of last season was to agree a new deal with Portsmouth but the financial crisis forced manager Michael Appleton to release the club’s longest-serving player. Leeds and Middlesbrough were among the clubs who made a beeline for him.
“It was nice to know that I was wanted,” Ashdown said, “especially after what I’ve been through this summer. I’ve had constant phone calls from the manager (Warnock) – not hassling me but calling regularly. It’s a good way to go about things and it’s a good way of getting to know someone.
“The truth is that I wanted to sign for Portsmouth again but that wasn’t possible for fairly obvious reasons. There were no hard feelings but I was sad to leave. I had many great years there, but I couldn’t be happier with how this has worked out.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Portsmouth but it’s moving-on time now. This was the best opportunity for me. I’ve come from a club whose fanbase is amazing to a club with even more fans than Portsmouth. That was part of what sold the move to me.”
Ashdown’s transfer was timed perfectly, allowing him to take part in the whole of United’s tour of Devon and Cornwall. He is one of eight signings made by a manager who promised this week that his “crucial” deals were still to come in.
“It seems like the manager’s got a few more signings to get and the squad should be very strong,” Ashdown said.
“Monday was my first game after 12 weeks off so it’s good to get back into it and a good week to sign. I need to show what I’m about in pre-season.
“It’s important for everyone to push, to get the best out of other players and out of the team.
“I’ve always had challenges and I’ve played behind a lot of international players. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to get as many games as I would have liked but I’ll push anyone at any club I go to. Everyone should do the same.”