Cairns' rise coincides with mass unbeaten run
It is startling to think that Alex Cairns had yet to make his first league start when Town last faced MK Dons but now fast-forward a number of months and Town are yet to lose a league game with Cairns in the net.
Cairns made that first league start against old club Chesterfield on November 19 and that 2-1 win was also the catalyst for Town’s current 15-game unbeaten league run that has propelled them up to fourth in the table.
Like Town’s current position, Cairns’ rise to the No.1 spot has been one of the surprise packages of the season having started the campaign behind Chris Neal.
Town head coach Uwe Rosler stresses that Neal did no wrong but says Cairns is playing like a man with bags of experience, having only conceded nine goals and kept seven clean sheets.
That is a remarkable feat given he only had one substitute appearance and a handful of cup games for Town after joining from Rotherham in the summer.
His only other league outing prior to this term was as a sub for Leeds in a 5-0 defeat to Blackpool back in 2011.
Town’s keeper is not the only change since that 4-1 defeat to the Dons at Highbury.
Cian Bolger is now one of the first names on the team sheet and Ben Davies has joined on loan from Preston, North End and slotting into a 3-5-2 formation that was also utilised for the first time in Cairns’ first league start.
Rosler said: “Our defensive structure starts with the front men and ends up with Alex.
“Alex has, in my opinion, for a keeper who had only played three senior games before starting that run, he is playing like a player who has 50, 80, 100 games under his belt.
“He is not fazed by anything, he keeps his feet on the ground; he offers something that I am looking for in a modern goalkeeper.
“I think it is also a little bit harsh on Chris Neal because Chris Neal did nothing wrong, I just felt we wanted to change one or two things for footballing reasons and, since then, he (Cairns) grabbed that chance.
“At the moment Chris Neal is pushing very hard in training, but at the moment, Alex makes it very difficult for Chris to come in again.”