My finest half-hour

Blackpool goalkeeper Mark Halstead

Blackpool goalkeeper Mark Halstead

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IF a good attitude and a level head counts for anything, Mark Halstead will go far.

The 20-year-old has spent the last few years grafting hard and this season it is starting to pay dividends.

He is, for the first time, the No.2 keeper at Bloomfield Road, on the bench every week and primed to step in should Matt Gilks suffer an injury.

He’s had a taste of the action before – most famously when he replaced Richard Kingson midway through the home clash against Chelsea in the Premier League last season.

Pool were 3-0 down at the time but Halstead did very well, keeping a clean sheet against Torres, Drogba, Lampard and co.

It’s hard to believe then –and this sums up Halstead’s sensible, feet-on-the-floor approach – that he hasn’t watched the game since.

He said: “Everybody asks me about the Chelsea match and whether I was nervous. But I was just doing my job. It is what I train for.

“Yes, it was a buzz but it is what you get paid to do. That’s why I haven’t watched it since.

“Idon’t know why but I don’t really want to. I’ve got it in my mind, and besides I don’t want to see how nervy I looked!

“I thought I did OK but I’ve moved on from there now and I want to keep progressing.

“You need to have that attitude. You need to keep working hard and training.

“I am 20 and I could start saying I played in the Prem against Chelsea and all their big names, but what if you don’t do anything after that?”

There’s another example of why the former Collegiate High School pupil has every chance of making it in football. He is honest.

Asked to reflect on his only start this season in the Carling Cup tie at Sheffield Wednesday – it finished 0-0 after extra- time and the Owls won on penalties – he will tell you he wasn’t happy with it. That’s quite refreshing.

Many would have talked about keeping a clean sheet or declined to look at their faults. Not Halstead. “It wasn’t the best game I’ve ever had and I know I can do better,” he said.

“I wasn’t nervous. It is just one of those performances and everybody gets them. I am still young and still learning.”

Reminded that he didn’t concede a goal in 120 minutes, Halstead added: “Yes, it was a clean sheet I suppose and it doesn’t matter how they come, but it wasn’t my greatest performance and I know that.”

Halstead shouldn’t fret too much. It’s a well known fact – or so we’re told – that keepers don’t peak until their late 20s.

Halstead agrees, to a point. His belief is that games allow a keeper to peak and that is often the difficult bit for a young keeper. Joe Hart aside, keepers aren’t usually thrown in at a young age.

“Obviously a lot of it is to do with experience because you need to make mistakes to learn from them. The only way of doing that is by playing games through the years,” Halstead added.

“Matt Gilks has got that now and is coming into his own. In my opinion he is probably the best keeper in the Championship.

“Someone like Joe Hart shows you get the odd exception to the rule. I’ve trained with Joe (when he was on loan at Blackpool in 2007) and he is something else. It is ridiculous what he can do.

“He started young at Shrewsbury, playing when he was 16 and 17. I could tell how good he was going to be from training with him.

“Just everything about him was pure class. It is hard to explain but everything he did was spot on.

“He was only 19 when he came and to do what he did was frightening. It shows what games give you, though you need the talent as well.”

Halstead, under the guidance of new goalkeeping coach George Wood, intends to keep his head down, remain patient and hope for a chance. If not, a loan move elsewhere may help.

“Being No.2 at a Championship club is a massive thing for a 20-year-old,” he added.

“But obviously I still need games and experience, and it is up to the manager what he decides to do.

“If he thinks I am ready to step in, then great. I feel I am. “But if not, I might have to go out somewhere and get some games.

“I’d go out on loan at the drop of the hat if that’s what the manager wanted me to do. I feel it would improve me.

“But training with George and Gillo (Gilks) every day improves me as well, so you can look at it both ways.

“This is the first time I’ve actually been in contention with the first team. If Gillo gets an injury or has a dip in form, maybe I will get a chance.”

If he plays as well as he talks, Halstead will be a success, no doubt about it.