One mistake will more often than not lead to a goal. One match-winning save will quickly be forgotten about once the £50 million striker nets the winning goal. Why would anyone want to be a goalkeeper? If you’re the biggest, you’re stuck in goal. If you’re the worst, you’re stuck in goal. The position in between the sticks has always seemed like a chore when you’re younger.
However, in recent years, the art of goalkeeper has changed. The man between the sticks in today’s game is quickly becoming one of the most athletic, fittest and most technical players on the pitch. Only last month we saw a goalkeeper nominated for the Ballon’ D’or.
In the Scottish game, goalkeepers aren’t always stealing the headlines. However, in form Greenock Morton keeper, Derek Gaston, is most certainly making his name known after some sparkling displays for the League One leaders.
The 27-year-old has been in scintillating form so far this campaign, and has been one of the main reasons why the Greenock side currently sit top of Scotland’s third tier. Gaston – who was signed by ex-Morton manager Allan Moore from Albion Rovers – is currently enjoying his third season with the club.
Gaston said: “My contract was expiring at Albion Rovers and, although they wanted to keep me, I had received a phone call from Allan Moore saying that he would be interested in signing me. I think the fact that Todd Lumsden – who was my assistant manager at Albion Rovers – had worked with Allan Moore at Cumbernauld College helped with getting me the move.”
“I had been playing at Albion Rovers for 3 years and, although I was loving my time there, I felt that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to test myself at full-time football. The only problem was that I was signed as a back up to Alan Combe, but I felt that it was worth the risk and that at some point I would get a chance to prove that I was good enough to play at this level.”
Gaston joined the blue and white hoops in the summer of 2012, and was set to play alongside big named players such as Michael Tidser, Peter MacDonald and Martin Hardie in what would be a season of near misses for the ‘Ton. After relegation scraps and mid table mediocrity in Morton’s previous five seasons in the First Division, a title challenge with Partick Thistle would emerge which Gaston remembers well.
He said: “As it was my first season in the First Division, I wasn’t sure just how strong our team would be in comparison to others. However, I soon realised that we had a great chance of winning the league as by Christmas, it had already turned into a three-horse race, which quickly changed to two as Dunfermline had off field problems.
“From there on in, it was great as both teams seemed to keep winning and the excitement around the club was brilliant but, unfortunately in the end, we just came up short. On a personal level it was great, as I had played almost every match and had secured my position as the number 1 goalkeeper at the club.”
Morton’s best finish in over twenty years was achieved during that season, and Derek was an immense figure throughout. His fine form would seal him a new one-year deal at the club, in a summer were many big named players departed.
Morton’s player of the season Michael Tidser had an offer of £50K accepted from Rotherham United, while top goalscorer Peter MacDonald departed to Dundee alongside fullback, William Dyer. Martin Hardie left in look of a new challenge, but Gaston stayed put hoping to go one step further next season.
What would follow during the 2013/14 season would bring a season of mixed emotions, mostly filled with great disappointment. In September, Allan Moore guided the club to one of their greatest every victories by knocking Scottish Champions Celtic out of the League Cup. However, following on from that result, he would be relieved of his duties due to the clubs poor league position. The club would later see relegation, putting an end to their seven year stay in the Scottish First Division. In a season where the club signed Nacho Novo and Gary O’Connor on short-term deals, Gaston admits last season was one to forget.
“Allan Moore was a very good manager who was unfortunate that he lost a lot of his better players at the end of a very good season and, as a result, struggled to fill the squad again with players of similar ability for the following season. He did manage to achieve one of the clubs greatest results just prior to him losing his job when we won 1-0 at Celtic Park in the league cup, though.”
“I’m still not sure how we managed to get relegated last season. Looking at our team on paper, we should have been up near the top rather than the bottom, but as the season went on our confidence got lower and wins seemed more difficult to come by.”
He went on to say: “We just never seemed to be able to put a few wins together to get the belief back and eventually went down without even putting up a fight which was probably the most disappointing thing.”
League One has proven to be a lot more comfortable for the men in front of Derek Gaston this season, as the blue and white hoops sit top of the table with seven games remaining. However, in a season where the club have already notched up ten league defeats as well as being knocked out of the Scottish Cup by amateur minnows Spartans, it’s been far from perfect from Jim Duffy’s men.
“I think this season has went well so far,” said Gaston. “Every team will go through parts of the season where they maybe don’t pick up as many points as they would have liked, and we are no different, but if we had been offered this position at the start of the season then we would have accepted it.
“Obviously getting knocked out of the Scottish cup by Spartans was a big disappointment and a missed opportunity and seemed to affect our league performances for a short time too, but fortunately we seem to have recovered from that period of the season.”
Jim Duffy, who was appointed as Kenny Shiels predecessor in the summer, has came under some criticism in the first few months of his tenure, but silenced many of his critics when he secured the signatures of some incredible signings in the January transfer window.
After being released from Dundee after only eighteen months at the club, Peter MacDonald made a dramatic return in what seemed like a title defining signing. Before fans could come to terms with the new arrival, it would later emerge the club were also set to sign midfielder, Michael Tidser.
As the transfer window deadline appraoched, Duffy made one last coup by re-signing Declan McManus services till the end of the season. In what was a crazy transfer window the ‘Ton, Morton had secured three giant signings for the remainder of the season.
Gaston said: “These signings had a big impact on the club as it gave the players, and also the fans, that extra bit of belief that we have a team capable of challenging for the league title. It also added to the squad depth which could prove vital especially at this point of the season when teams will pick up suspensions and injuries. We now have a lot of good players pushing for a place in the team which can only be a good thing.”
Unfortunately though, it would later emerge that Michael Tidser would be ineligible to play for the remainder of the season after already playing for two clubs this season.
January had been a massive boost to Morton’s title winning chances, as the final game of the season draws closer. However, Gaston believes the League One title is heading to Cappielow.
He said: “Of course we can win the title this season, however, so can three other teams. It’s going to come down to which team can maintain their good form from now until the end of the season and I’m sure a few of the other teams will love the opportunity to have a big say on where the title goes.”
Big things await the twenty-seven year old lifeguard, whose contract expires in the summer. There is no doubt that bigger clubs will be keeping their eye on the keeper, whose form doesn’t seem to be dipping.
“I think it’s important not to be too focused on how well you have played in the past few games, as no matter how well you have been playing, and if you are attracting interest from other clubs, it makes no difference if you then go out and don’t play as well in next few games. There isn’t much thought that goes into where I could be playing next season at this point of the season as there is still almost a quarter of the season left and a lot can change in that time.”