Gally hopes to save the best until last
Paul Gallagher was not completely out of his comfort zone when he pulled off a goalline save that most goalkeepers would have been proud of at Newcastle.
The Preston North End midfielder was shown a straight red card after flinging himself to his left to keep out Isaac Hayden’s shot in the 4-1 defeat at St James’ Park.
The two-handed stop was pure instinct from the 32-year-old, not surprising given the fact he often donned the gloves as a youngster.
Gallagher even attended goalkeeping training when coming through the ranks in Blackburn Rovers’ academy and while on loan at Plymouth early on in his career he was the designated outfield player who in the absence of a substitute keeper would go between the sticks in an emergency.
“I used to play in goal when I was younger,” he said.
“At Plymouth when I was on loan we didn’t have a keeper on the bench so I was the sub keeper.
“Luckily the keeper never got injured.
“But I played quite a lot of games in goal as a young kid and when I was at Blackburn I used to do goalkeeper training with Vince O’Keefe.
“I used to go down on a Thursday night when I was at the academy so it was just instinct, a reaction at Newcastle.
“I might have a green jersey next year, I don’t know, and I might be able to save the club some money.
“People might send me goalie gloves instead of football boots!”
The incident in question came 63 minutes into the game in the North East that saw Rafa Benitez’s Magpies return to the Premier League at the first attempt.
Simon Grayson’s side had asked plenty of questions under the lights at St James’ Park and were well in the game at 2-1 down.
After Gallagher’s red, however, Matt Ritchie converted from the spot and then Ayoze Perez added a fourth shortly after as Newcastle confirmed their place in the top flight next season.
“It’s one of those where you’re in a Catch 22,” said Gallagher.
“Do you leave it or go for it?
“If it hadn’t touched Maxi’s (Chris Maxwell) foot I would have cleared it off the line but the deflection took it the other way.
“My initial reaction was to try and keep it out, I’m almost disappointed I didn’t hold it.
“You only have a second to make a decision, not even that.
“It’s just disappointing because it’s a difficult place to play even with 11 men.
“Before that we were well in the game as well. We had some good chances, Daniel Johnson went through on a one-on-one, and there were others.
“I apologised to the lads because I know what it’s like to play with 10 men.”
Not only was Gallagher visibly upset as he left the field, his apology to his team-mates was followed by a public one to the fans on Twitter.
“The fans travelled all that way and have followed us up and down the country so to leave them with 10 men with 25 minutes to go was disappointing,” he said.
“It’s one of those things where I’m still learning at 32 and I’ve learned not to do that again.
“Hopefully I won’t be in that position again and I’ll try and put my head on it or foot on it.
“At that time I couldn’t really get there and my first thought was to try and keep the ball out of the net.
“I apologised to the fans because I thought I’d let people down.”
The Newcastle defeat is part of a run of five games without a win heading into Sunday’s final-day trip to Wolves, Gallagher available again after serving his one-game ban.
North End’s form has faltered since the play-offs became out of reach, with Grayson’s Lilywhites sitting in the same place and on the same number of points as they finished last season, 11th and 62 respectively. Now the challenge is to finish the season on a high and improve on their second campaign back in the Championship.
“With the performances we’ve had this season it’s disappointing we haven’t finished a lot higher,” said Gallagher.
“We’ve had a few disappointing results over the last few games.
“They’ve been tough games against big clubs but it’s a demanding league and we’ve had a really good season.
“We didn’t start very well but we picked ourselves up and it would be nice to finish on a good result going into the summer break.
“The players that have come in have done a good job, the manager and staff have done a great job, not with the biggest budget either.
“We deserve to finish hopefully above where we did last season because our performances this season have been very good and you go into the summer looking to build and push on again.
“We’ve done ourselves proud and hopefully we can do well at the weekend, go away in the summer and recharge the batteries and bring players in to kick on again.”
The play-offs may be out of reach but North End could leapfrog Brentford, who play relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers into 10th spot in the division.
Given the quality in the Championship this season, most at Deepdale believe it is an achievement that North End were in the play-off hunt for so long and that the last few weeks should not cloud what has been another season of progress.
If results do not got their way, however, Preston could finish as low as 13th in the table.
“It was good to go into the last few games with something to play for and we just fell short,” said Gallagher, who has made 33 appearances this season and scored one goal in his man-of-the-match display against Huddersfield back in October.
“It wasn’t for the lack of trying,” he added.
“We’ve got better and you have to with the way the league is.
“We’re going to a tough place again for the final game in Molineux with a big stadium and a big crowd but we’re going there looking to finish the season on a high with a win, which hopefully would take us to 10th which would be nice.”