Keeper Marcus Dewhurst made the first appearance of his senior professional career in front of the TV cameras on Sunday – and what a game it turned out to be.
The 19-year-old Sheffield United loanee had been earmarked by manager Chris Beech for a start at the end of last season but the Covid-19 lockdown struck, robbing him of the opportunity to take to the pitch.
That was put right for the FA Cup first-round visit to face Hayes & Yeading United, where he was called into action during the normal 90 minutes of time and, even more dramatically, for the deciding penalty shoot-out.
Speaking about his first senior game (he had also played for Guiseley in National League North against Curzon Ashton in 2019), he said: “It was great to be involved. I’ve waited a long time for my chance and hopefully I’ve taken it with both hands and proved myself.
“It has been a while but it feels good to be playing and to have got my first game for the club under my belt. I was disappointed not to play last season but I’ve worked hard in training and got my opportunity, and I really enjoyed it.”
With knowing he was in the starting eleven, we wondered if the build-up to kick off had felt any different.
“It was a lot different,” he agreed. “Obviously in most places we go to we’re in two separate dressing rooms because of Covid, so it was nice to be in the dressing room with the rest of the starters rather than the subs.
“I really enjoyed the whole build up to the game, even training in the lead-up when I knew I was going to be playing, and the warm-up before the game and everything.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but I did have butterflies. I think that’s the same whether you’re playing a friendly, a bounce game or an FA Cup game.
“I wasn’t particularly nervous, I was more excited than anything else, so I wasn’t really thinking about it.”
The game itself saw him make some vital saves, particularly when livewire striker Franny Amartey broke through on two separate occasions.
“Hayes played really well,” he commented. “I wouldn’t say they were better than we expected, because we knew they’d be a good side.
“They almost had nothing to lose because they knew they were the underdogs, but they played with a lot of energy. They had a few really good players and their striker meant they were really quick on the counter.
“We were on top for the majority of the game but they had a few chances and I was happy to make the couple of saves that I did.
“I was disappointed to concede because I wanted to keep the clean sheet, but it doesn’t always happen like that. When we were two down I was starting to think that was it, but Mellish went and scored two great goals, which seems to be what he does, and I was just focusing on the penalties from there.”
So, TV cameras, first appearance, all the focus on who will be taking the penalty kicks – what goes through a keeper’s mind when he’s in that situation?
“I’m not sure what was going through my mind once the game was over really but I can tell you that I just couldn’t stop smiling all the way home,” he revealed. “It was great to save the two penalties and help the team get through to the next round.
“We didn’t say too much before the penalties, it was more just Steve [Collis] making sure I was calm. The rest of the lads are obviously trying to decide who will take a penalty, so I just needed to make sure I was calm and ready to face their penalties.
“We didn’t have too many clips or ideas about where they might go, so it was more educated guessing than anything else. I was just trying to read their run-ups and dive from there.”
The first of his two saves was decent – but possibly a kick he would be expected to stop – but the second was right out of the top drawer as he went full length to tip a screamer onto the bar.
“For the second save I looked at his run-up, which was straight, so I thought he might try and fool me and go the opposite way,” he explained. “I couldn’t really see the ball, it felt like it was behind me before I knew it, but my neck and my arm went back and I felt it hit my wrist.
“It hit my head after it hit the crossbar I thought it was going to go in, but thankfully it didn’t. I was just really relieved and happy to save it.
“The emotions of having to wait all that time to play a game, then getting my chance and taking it, I was just so happy to play a little part in helping us to get through.”
Importantly his performance and heroics sent a message to the coaching staff that he’s ready, should he be needed again.
“That’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to play and show the gaffer and Steve that I am ready, because I haven’t had a chance to play in a big pressure match like that.
“There’s probably more pressure on us to win that game because we were expected to win. I enjoyed every minute of it and I just want more of it now.
“Hopefully I can get more minutes and more experience as the season goes on. Obviously it’s good for Sheffield United to see me do that as well.
“I got a text from my two goalkeeper coaches there, Matt Duke and Darren Ward, just saying well done and congratulations. It was great to hear from them.”
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