City goalkeeping legend Bryan Gunn today paid tribute to one of Norwich's unsung heroes of late – sub keeper Matthew Gilks.
The 25-year-old has yet to make a first team appearance for the Canaries since his free transfer switch from Rochdale in the summer.
He has, however, kept current Canary No1 David Marshall firmly on his toes. And fresh from keeping a clean sheet in this week's 5-0 ressie romp at Luton following his recent ankle injury lay-off, Gilks continues to make Marshall work hard for his jersey. He also had a fine, first-half penalty save to his credit against the Hatters.
“I know from my own time as a No2 at Aberdeen how frustrating it is just sitting on the bench, week in, week out,” said City's stand-in goalkeeping coach, still thoroughly enjoying his new role in the flourishing Glenn Roeder set-up.
“And you've got to keep your concentration levels up – that if there is any injury or whatever, then you've got to be ready. And Matty's approach to that aspect of the game has been top class.
“He really keeps the pressure on David Marshall. Matty's a good goalkeeper.”
In fairness to Marshall, he has clearly responded to Gilks' challenge. The fact that the Canaries head to Ninian Park this weekend in search of their fourth straight clean sheet is a sure sign of a back five being very much on top of their game.
“The defence as a unit have got themselves into this mind-set where they are hard to beat,” said Gunn, back in his 'temporary' role for a second stint after Roeder's appointment of ex-Wimbledon boss Colin Murdoch to that vacant goalkeeping coach berth lasted all of 72-hours before he had a change of heart and returned to his home in Brighton.
“They're all thinking: 'I don't want to concede a goal; if I concede one, I don't want to concede two…' It's a very solid-looking back four. And then you just build from that and look to play your more adventurous and flambouyant players further forward.”
One of the many intriguing aspects to this weekend's Championship trip to South Wales is just which of his more flambouyant players wins the manager's nod after the arrival of Premiership starlets Kieran Gibbs and James Henry last month.
Likewise, Roeder now has further options at the back with Boro 21-year-old Matthew Bates enjoying a very polished, 35-minute run-out at right-back last Saturday. And as with Arsenal starlet Gibbs, the City chief has promised 19-year-old Reading centre-half Alex Pearce that he “will play”.
In fact, one of the few nailed on certainties to start is Marshall as the on-going debate as to whether the one-time Celtic starlet is starting to eclipse Sunderland's ?9 million man Craig Gordon.
For Gunn, the picture is clouded by the level that the two keepers are currently playing at – how do you measure a keeper's worth when faced with Championship-standard strikers as opposed to those who face, say, Wayne Rooney for a living?
“That's the question – Gordon's playing at the top level in the Premiership,” said Norfolk's own former Scottish international keeper. “It is two different standards of football.
“But, saying that, I think you could put David Marshall in at that level and I don't think he would look out of place. He has a real calming effect on people – and that helps defenders. That if they feel that they've got a keeper behind them that they can rely on, then that allows them to concentrate much more on their own game.”
The luckless Paul Gallacher proved that point; that his own lack of confidence proved infectious; it forced everyone else to keep one eye over their shoulder. Marshall's growing command of his penalty area has enabled both Gary Doherty and Jason Shackell to focus on their own performances and, with the weight of captaincy lifted from Shackell's shoulders, both players have blossomed of late.
“David's certainly been playing to a very high level and since Glenn's come on board, his performances have been at a fantastic level – he's now just got to keep that up.”
Certainly Gunn appears to be thoroughly enjoying his new role after his stint as Peter Grant's 'club liason' officer.
“I'm loving it,” he said simply. “It's a temporary role, but I'm really enjoying it – being back out in the fresh air up at Colney. And they're a really good group of goalkeepers to work with.
“David, Matty, Stevie Arnold and Declan Rudd the young youth team keeper, they are all performing at a very level. Like I said, they're a great group to work with.”
Next week, of course, and Gunn has another great group to work with – all 120-plus of them as another one of his two-day 'Bryan Gunn Goalkeeping Schools' opens its doors for business up at Pinebanks.
Run in conjunction with the club's Football In The Community teams, Gunn will still be firmly in attendance – even if it means juggling around with his new day job.
“There's a mid-week game against Hull next week, but I'll definitely be finding time to go to Pinebanks and join in with some of the training sessions,” said the City legend.
Given that a wintry squall was unfolding as he spoke, he had a word of warning to the 200-odd parents involved. “It looks as if it could be typical Bryan Gunn Goalkeeping School weather, so all those mums and dads better expect some muddy young goalkeepers to be delivered back to them on Monday night.
“And those washing machines will be spinning madly that night, to make sure that all their goalkeeping togs are back up to scratch for the next morning!”