FLOW­ERS IS THE KEY FOR HERO LEE

Cob­blers loan star fol­lows Foster’s path

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE PLAY-OFF FINAL - By Matt Wright

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.

In­flu­ence

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.”

Tal­ent

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.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

NO WAY PAST: Lee Ni­cholls makes a save for Northamp­ton. Inset: Tim Flow­ers and Ben Foster

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