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Kev's Keeping Positive | Kevin Dearden on the Hatters GK Union

This interview first appeared in the Bristol City edition of 'Our Town', with clean sheet and goal stats updated since the Hatters' 1-0 win...

17 March 2023

Club News

Kev's Keeping Positive | Kevin Dearden on the Hatters GK Union

This interview first appeared in the Bristol City edition of 'Our Town', with clean sheet and goal stats updated since the Hatters' 1-0 win...

17 March 2023

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Head of goalkeeping Kevin Dearden believes the men between the sticks currently for the Hatters, and those starting elsewhere for their loan clubs, have put the club’s GK Union in a more positive place than ever.

Having been to the World Cup with the USA, Ethan Horvath has been in fine form, recording a 16th clean sheet of the season - the same number as goals that top scorer Carlton Morris has to his name - as the Hatters have laid down some roots in the Sky Bet Championship play-off places.

“The longer the season goes on the more Ethan is showing his value to us,” said Dearden, who along with fellow Kev, goalkeeper coach Pilkington, took great satisfaction from the crucial big hand the 27-year-old produced to prevent Sheffield United captain John Egan from plundering a late close-range equaliser in the 1-0 win at Bramall Lane last Saturday.

Hatters head of goalkeeping Kevin Dearden

“It was a big save the other day, and he’s up to 16 clean sheets. It’s not all Ethan. It’s a team game, but he should be proud of that, and he is proving himself to be one of the best goalkeepers in the Championship, which is what we thought he would be and what we hoped he would be.

“His attitude and his work ethic, day in day out, is absolutely first class and an example to any player, and that’s transferring itself onto the pitch. He’s a really steady, calming influence. The team have got a lot of trust in him, and I think we are seeing it in the clean sheets and performances so far.”

Currently on a season loan from Nottingham Forest, Horvath did feature in Steve Cooper’s side’s amazing surge to play-off promotion last season, and Dearden believes that experience is aiding the Hatters’ own push this term.

“He did play a few important games for Forest, which I think we have reaped the benefit of, because he’s got an idea of what the Championship is about,” says Dearden.

“It’s difficult for goalkeepers coming into the Championship. It’s a rugged, relentless, tough division for goalkeepers and I think maybe that gave Ethan an indicator of what it would be like.

“He was involved in the play-off push, so he knows what it entails, he knows what it takes to win the play-offs, and he’ll bring that experience and that calmness to the group, which he has done all season.”

Hatters goalkeeper Ethan Horvath in action

Dearden also emphasised the importance that the fans’ audible support of the keeper, when they sing ‘USA, USA’, can have on the team as a whole.

“It’s massively important from the team and from a personal point of view, but it just shows the support that he has from the fans, because he also has that support from the group as they realise how good he is, and it always helps if you’ve got support from the fans.

“We know what our fans are like away from home, they are second to none, they are brilliant. And when the ‘USA, USA’ chants go round, it’s got to make you feel good.”

The only goals that Horvath has conceded from open play in the last ten league games have come against Millwall, the first which he uncharacteristically let slip through his hands, and a second that should have been ruled out for offside.

“It’s a great stat,” says Dearden, but we have to reiterate that the team is in good form. There is an unbelievable belief and team spirit amongst the group. They are prepared to die for each other.

“Ethan makes a terrible mistake against Millwall. He knows that, we know that, but we’ve never even talked about it because that’s a goalkeeper’s lot. It’s something that he’ll do again, that’s a certainty. A lot of goalkeepers could have crumbled in a big game, live on TV - the first thing they do is make a mistake like that. But Ethan didn’t.

“He showed his character, showed his strength of mind and ended up having a good game. He held his hands up, we move on and we didn’t even discuss it. The team is doing an unbelievable job in defending their box, defending Ethan, but Ethan is there, and has been there, when he’s been needed.”

Horvath will only benefit from being pushed by fit-again James Shea, whose return to the matchday squad in early February came sooner than anticipated following the serious knee injury he suffered at Cardiff last Easter Monday.

James Shea back in action during a pre-match warm-up at Kenilworth Road

“Sheasy has done unbelievable because that was a bad injury, a serious injury, and he’s come back quicker than we all thought,” says Dearden. “That’s a credit to him and to the medicalteam, they have done a great job with him, and it’s been an eye opener for me.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with him on his rehab, because ACL rehab is different for goalkeepers and there is no real evidence of what you should so, because it’s not really a goalkeeping injury. I’ve really enjoyed getting involved one on one with Sheasy for the rehab.

“His work ethic and his desire to come through is amazing, but that’s Sheasy. He’s shown that every time at this football club that he’ll come through, whether it’s being left out, or playing, whatever - Sheasy shows that he’s always stepped up to the mark.

“He’s never had a serious injury before. It’s the first one he’s had and stepped up and come back. Now he’s over with Kev, and you’d never know there had been anything wrong. 

“He feels great, he looks great, he’s training hard and one, Ethan knows that he’s got competition on his hands, and two, it’s also a great feeling for the football club that if something should happen to Ethan, we’ve got Sheasy ready and firing and can’t wait to get involved.”

Shea, who joined the Hatters as a free agent following his release from AFC Wimbledon in the summer of 2017, has played in two development squad matches in recent weeks as he increases his fitness to be ready to make a 107th appearance whenever required.

“Sheasy gives us that stability,” says Dearden. “We’ve relied on Sheasy and we always talk about it. We recruited him as a number two in League Two, and he’s been a number one in the Championship. That’s credit to him, because of his attitude, he knows his role at this football club and he plays that to an absolute tee. Whenever he’s been required, he’s never let this football club down, and that’s a credit to him.

“There are a few here who have become a bit of the fabric, who have been on this journey the last six or seven years with the football club, and I think it should give the people in the club pleasure that we’ve got so many - Pelly, Pottsy, Glen, Bez, Harry and Sheasy – that are still on it.

“A lot of teams, if they’d gone from where we have to where we are now, would have lost them. But we’ve still got that fabric and that is part of us, and that is why we have got that extra percentage compared to a lot of other teams, I’m certain.”

By Harry, Dearden is of course referring to Harry Isted, who moved on loan to Barnsley in January with Jack Walton moving in the opposite direction on a permanent transfer.

Jack Walton pictured at The Brache on the day he signed for the Hatters

“Jack was unfortunate in that he tweaked his groin, then his partner had their first baby and it was a quite long and drawn-out process. Obviously Sheasy had to come in and it was a bit of unfortunate timing for Jack, but his recruitment was with a longer term, bigger picture. It wasn’t always just about right now.

“If we look at where Harry was, we saw Sheasy coming back strong and fit and firing, and we just felt that Harry’s opportunities with Sheasy back would be limited, and that he needed the opportunity to go and play some games and find his way, and see where that took him.

“He’s gone to Barnsley, he’s got in the team, he’s doing great and they’re doing great, so in the end it’s worked out perfectly for Harry.

“As part of that, last year with the situation we had with goalkeepers being injured, we couldn’t leave ourselves short and in that with Barnsley, we had an opportunity to bring in Jack, a young goalkeeper who has already played 35 games in the Championship and was vital to Barnsley when they stayed up the same year we did.

“He played 20 odd games and was a massive part of the reason why they stayed up, with his performances, and we think there is potential with Jack. We think we can work with Jack and make him a better goalkeeper.

“So the opportunity came with Harry and Jack, which we felt was the right thing to do to allow Harry to play football and for us to bring in a young goalkeeper who has the potential, and who also has that experience of the Championship if we need to call on it.”

Harry Isted in training action

While Isted has kept three clean sheets in his first six matches for the Tykes, Matt Macey moved to Portsmouth and although Pompey’s push for the play-offs under new manager John Mousinho hasn’t materialised, the 28-year-old summer signing from Hibernian has earned plaudits with five clean sheets in his ten matches.

“Matt came here hoping to play. We felt that the department, with Sheasy being out injured but with Harry here, so we had Matt, Ethan and Harry, I think we’ll all turn around and say regarding Matt that it hasn’t worked out exactly as we’d all have hoped.

“But we know that we has a very good goalkeeper here in Matt, and given the opportunity, he will do well. But he wasn’t playing, he was getting frustrated and jt was a case of us looking after ourselves, but if an opportunity came along for Matt to go out on loan and get some games and rebuild his confidence and be the first team keeper that we think he is, then we’d let him do it.

“Portsmouth offered him that opportunity. A big club in League One that was still hoping to get in the play-offs. We felt it was an ideal opportunity for Matt to go and get some games and really show what he can do.

“Although some of the results for Portsmouth haven’t been great, myself and Kev have watched some of the games and getting feedback, Portsmouth are delighted that Matt’s done really well. He’s kept a few clean sheets, but he’s kept them in games as well when he’s needed to.”

Matt Macey playing in goal for the Hatters

With development squad keeper Jameson Horlick training with the first team on a daily basis while preparing to go out on loan to gain senior experience, and Under-18 stopper Sam Bentley starring in the youth team’s title win and run to the FA Youth Cup fifth round, Dearden is hugely positive about his pack.

“There has been a real change in the goalkeeping department since the January window, but I think it’s real positive change.

“Positive for Matt going to get games, positive for Harry to go and get games and maybe find his way, real positive in Ethan’s form, unbelievable positive in Sheasy’s recovery, and bringing in Jack, a young keeper who we feel has got potential.

“He’s settling in, he’ll be disappointed he’s not on the bench, but it isn’t about right now for Jack. It’s longer term and covering ourselves for if anything happens this season, but we see Jack as a long term project, as with Jamo and Sam.

“Credit to Kev (Pilkington) because he puts a lot of hard work out there on the training ground with the boys, and that is starting to really come to fruition.”

Goalkeeper coach Kevin Pilkington works with the Town keepers


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