Daily Post

Wrexham keeper shines for Wales

Mark Currie
By Mark Currie, Daily Post

31/03/03

Paul WhitfieldWREXHAM goalkeeper Paul Whitfield saw his patience rewarded when he won his first Wales under-21 cap in Friday's 1-0 win against Azerbaijan at Barry Town's Jenner Park.

The 20-year old, whose early-season run in the Racecourse side was halted by injury, was given his chance by U21 coach Jimmy Shoulder after more than 18 months on the fringes of the squad.

"This is about the fifth time I've been involved with the squad and I felt it went really well," said Whitfield. "I was just happy to keep a clean sheet."

Under-employed for a long period of the game, Whitfield made crucial saves in the final ten minutes as the Azeris tried to salvage a draw and saw one late effort rebound off the crossbar.

But he said: "There was a little fright at the end when they hit the bar but I had it covered and I also tipped one over the bar as well. I didn't really see that shot coming and I was at full stretch but I got enough on it to turn it away."

Whitfield, who was understudy to former Racecourse team-mate David Walsh in the previous squad, has found Gillingham's Jason Brown ahead of him in the current pecking order, so he was delighted his patience had finally paid off.

"I'm overjoyed about getting my cap because it's been a long time coming," he added.

"Jason wasn't 100pc fit because he was struggling with his shoulder so I prepared myself and Jimmy (Shoulder) then said he wasn't going to risk him.

"That was a vote of confidence in me and I want to take that back to Wrexham now.

"I was a bit unlucky tearing my cartilage when I was in the first team at the Racecourse but now I'm fit again I want to try and win back a first team spot."

Shoulder said Whitfield had performed to expectations. "I've sung the praises of this particular bunch of players as being very decent and Paul exemplifies this.

"He's sat patiently on the bench for a long time, he has had very little football in the last month or so and he had very little to do tonight other than catch his death of cold.

"But right at the end he's performed like an international goalkeeper and I think that's the stamp of all the players. When he was called upon to do his stuff, he did it really well and you can't ask for more."

The coach was pleased with a second UEFA Championship win on the run following a similar scoreline in Baku last November, even though central defender Rhys Day and Azeri defender, Fagan Shahbazov, were both sent off and James Collins missed a first-half penalty.

"I think it was a convincing win, even if the performance wasn't," said Shoulder. "The sending-off had a detrimental effect on the game, particularly for us, because it disrupted our pattern a bit more.

"We should have knocked the penalty in and at 2-0 I think we would have gone on and won by more.In that sense, it was convincing but we have played better."