Keeper Magnus Norman turned from villain to hero within a matter of minutes at the Breyer Group Stadium last weekend when his clip on the heels of striker Conor Wilkinson was quickly followed by a spectacular penalty save as he went full length to palm a Dan Kemp rasper away to safety.
The block spurred United on towards a dramatic victory, a first league win for the 24-year-old who made his fourth league appearance for the club in that game.
Speaking about the moment this week, he said: “If you’ve given a penalty away like that the best response is to put it right. As soon as the whistle blew I was thinking about the clips we’d watched, so I sort of knew which way he was going to go.
“I then saw him and one of the other players arguing about who was going to take it, so I felt confident. He struck it well, to be fair. But because it was in the back of my mind as to where I thought he was going to go, I think that gave me the edge.
“When George Tanner scored that goal in the last minute it made the whole game and everything that had happened feel worth it. Even with the long journey there and back, it all felt good after getting the three points.”
His performances in the last two games, having had a long spell on the bench as back-up to Paul Farman, have come as a perfect example of how every player has to be ready to go at the drop of a hat.
“I’ve had to be patient this year and the gaffer has spoken to me about that repeatedly,” he revealed. “I’ve got my chance in the last few games and he’s always said that I needed to make sure I was ready if I was needed.
“That was the same against Mansfield when Farms had the thigh injury, and it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon the day before, or whenever it was, that I found out I was playing in that one. You just have to make sure you can step in.
“Obviously for a keeper there’s only one position and Farms has done really well. Like I say, I have to be ready in case anything happens, and I know in myself that I could have stepped up any time and done a good job.
“I knew the manager and keeper coach had faith in me when I signed here, but they’ve shown that again over the last few weeks. I feel like I’ve done well and repaid them for that a little bit.
“I was happy with Cheltenham, even though I was a bit annoyed about the free kick and having them celebrate in front of us at full time. That was just one of those things.
“The Orient game was a good one for us because we came back to get a win for the first time this season. It was my first league win when I’ve been on the pitch as well, so that was good.”
Having worked hard all season, he spoke about the patience needed as he provided support during training sessions and from the technical area.
“Of course you get frustrated, that’s just natural,” he admitted. “Playing football is what I enjoy doing and having to be patient this year has been frustrating sometimes because I just want to be out there.
“It’s what I want to do and it’s why I came to the club, to play football. Hopefully going off the back of the last few games, and possibly into the last game of the season, if I can take that confidence into pre-season we can then see what happens.
“I’m definitely up for the fight of challenging for that number one spot. That was the same this time round but with the injury I picked up at the start of the season it sort of killed my momentum.
“I thought I’d done well in pre-season so that was really frustrating to have that happen. But I got going again and I’ve been on the bench at other clubs so I knew what I had to do, and that was to support Farms as much as I could.”
“The good thing is that me and Farms are competitive with each other anyway, but we support each other as well,” he continued. “Now that I’ve played a couple of games and done well it means that I’ve been able to make a statement, and that’s important for all of us.
“The group of keepers we have are great to be with. We had Marcus Dewhurst here through the first half of the season and that was good as well. Gabriel Breeze has stepped up and he’s been brilliant in training. Scott Simons is another, so it’s been an excellent group to work with, under the coaching of Steve Collis. We’re all competitive but we all get on.
“That’s the same right through the squad. We’ve shown this season that we can easily compete with the players we have here now. If we bring in a few more players as well there’s no reason why we can’t be challenging again next year.”
But with the club having just missed out on a play-off place, we wondered if there was a sense of disappointment that we hadn’t quite made it across the line.
“Yes, but there’s bound to be because at the start of the season we all talked about getting to the play-offs and getting promoted,” he told us. “With where we were in December it looked like we were going to do it.
“We lost the momentum after the postponements and the covid break, so it is disappointing that we’re not still up there. We know we should be there and we feel we deserve to be there. If we finish the season on a high that will be a good thing for all of us.
“When you think back, it’s been a weird year. The season started late, which was already strange, and in pre-season there was still a sense that nobody really knew what was going on with football and life in general.
“We got started, then we had fans back, then covid came again, and we were suddenly getting tested twice a week. The weather made it even more unpredictable and it has been very strange for us all the way through. I don’t think we’ll see another season like it, but hopefully next year we’ll be back to some kind of normality.
“The few times we had the fans in this season we did really well. Them being there seemed to give us an extra boost so that’s also something we’re definitely looking forward to.
“The other strange thing is that all of my league appearances have been away from home. They’ve all been quite far away at Mansfield, Stevenage, Cheltenham and Orient. I’ve been waiting for my home league debut, so it’ll be good when it happens. We’ll just have to wait and see when that is.”
And summing up his first year with the club, he commented: “I feel like I’ve done well on the pitch, and generally around the club I feel like it’s a good atmosphere all the time. It’s been a good season overall really.
“I know I’ve developed as a player and as a person, and part of that has been living away from home. Even sitting on the bench and watching Farms, I’ve learned a lot from that. He’s experienced, he’s played over 400 games now, and you’re always going to pick things up from people like that.
“Being settled in the area has been important, I think. I love it up here, I really do. I was chatting to my girlfriend the other day and we both said how it’s just perfect and how much we enjoy it.
“I’ve got a dog as well so we’re always off on long walks, so it’s brilliant up here for a lot of different reasons. That’s why it’s good going into the summer knowing that I have the security of another year here.
“When I was leaving Fulham I had no real idea what was coming next, and that’s not a nice feeling. Being somewhere you enjoy and having a contract already sorted is good. I'm just looking forward to getting gooing again now."
And whether or not he’s between the sticks on Saturday for the last game of the season, he insisted that the team will be looking to do things properly.
“The manager has said that he wants us to finish as high as possible, so that’s what we’ll be going out to do,” he said. “Tenth is good if you look at last season, and where we’ve come from.
“If we get the win on Saturday it shows that we’ve carried on going all the way until the last game. Once we drew at Cheltenham and we knew we couldn’t make the play-offs we could have given it up, but it’s credit to everybody that we’ve stuck with it.
“The gaffer has asked us to finish as well as we can and I don’t think it counts just as a team. It’s about personal performances and pride in your job.
“I feel like I have to do well to put it in the mind of the manager for next season, and I think other players have to do that as well. I don’t think you’ll find any of us giving it up or not putting as much into it, we’ll be going all the way to the end.”
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