FLOWERS IS THE KEY FOR HERO LEE
Cobblers loan star follows Foster’s path
WHILE comparisons with England international Ben Foster have been cooled by Northampton’s Lee Nicholls for now, he claims another former Three Lions keeper is the secret behind his rise between the sticks.
Tim Flowers is the goalkeeping coach at Sixfields and having amassed over 500 league games and 11 England caps in an 18-year career he appears to be the perfect sounding board for the 20-yearold.
And if the play-off semi-final against Cheltenham is anything to go by his words of wisdom seem to be paying off.
Nicholls, on loan from Wigan, kept two clean sheets against the Robins and pulled off a vital penalty save in the second leg at Whaddon Road that had Cobblers boss Aidy Boothroyd purring.
Boothroyd gave Foster his big break at Watford and he sees similarities between the two, claiming Nicholls was already as good as the West Brom stopper.
But as Nicholls prepares to go to battle with Bradford at Wembley, he admits the influence of Flowers has been key to his fine form.
“Tim’s had a big influence on me. He’s helped when times have been bad or when I haven’t been playing my best,” said Nicholls, who has been an ever-present for Northampton this season in the league.
“When I have played well, he’s just leant back and let me get on with my game.Tim deserves a lot of credit because he’s been there throughout the season for me.
“I’ve learned a lot more this season than I ever will. I’ve come to a side that plays a totally different way that Wigan play so I’ve learned a lot from playing a different style.
“Aidy’s given me a chance and I’ve took it and hopefully now we can go one step further into League One. It’s overwhelming when a manager who has been in the Premier League says you’re as good as an England international.
“Ben Foster is a great keeper who plays every week in the Premier League.”
Even though he is being tipped for Premier League honours by Boothroyd, Nicholls insists he’d have no qualms in returning to Sixfields next season.
And he admits his eagerness would be hastened if Northampton were to secure League One football next term.
“If we get into League One I’ll be texting Aidy telling him to get me back,” he added.
“It’s on the cards but I haven’t really thought about it. It’s out of my hands and it’s up to what Wigan do. If they go down it’s still up to them.
“When I came here it was basically to do my best and see where I could help get us. We had the chance to go up automatically but it wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully we can do it next week.
“I’ve never even been to Wembley before. Obviously, I think we’ve got a great chance of winning there, but Bradford are a very good side.”
Boothroyd admits he’d love to bring Nicholls back next season and believes the keeper is destined for bigger and better things.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with some fantastic goalkeepers and he’s right up there with Ben Foster,” said Boothroyd.
“On the night (second leg against Cheltenham) he just had glue on his hands and he was brilliant. Wigan have got a top keeper on their books, not just because of his talent because talent will only get you through the door.
“It’s down to his willingness to work and his acceptance of selfcriticism – if he doesn’t play very well he holds his hands up. A lot of players will say it wasn’t my fault, it was his fault or I didn’t have the right thing for breakfast but not him.
“He’s brilliant, he just says ‘yeah that was my fault’. When you’re going to be a top player, you’ve got to be a good coach and recognise when you do well and you don’t do well and he’s got that in abundance. That will take him to the top.”
NO WAY PAST: Lee Nicholls makes a save for Northampton. Inset: Tim Flowers and Ben Foster