Kirkland wants regular PNE No.1 spot
Chris Kirkland sees no reason why he cannot be the answer to Preston North End's current goalkeeping conundrum.
An area of the pitch which has seen much change over the course of the season – the only permanent fixture within the keeper department at Deepdale has been Kirkland.
Signed in the summer on a one-year contract, the 35-year-old arrived at Deepdale to primarily fulfil the role of an experienced No.2 to rising star Jordan Pickford, who had joined on loan from Sunderland.
The former Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday No.1 understood his role within the squad, but was still eager to provide competition for Pickford and push for a first-team call.
There was hardly any opportunity for Kirkland to showcase his abilities over the first half of the season as Pickford excelled between the sticks.
Ironically, when the England Under-21s star was wrongly sent off against Leeds United in December, young 17-year-old Matthew Hudson was summoned from the substitutes’ bench as Kirkland was absent from the squad through illness.
Pickford’s performances for PNE caught the eye to such an extent that new Black Cats boss Sam Allardyce recalled him back to the Stadium of Light at the first opportunity in January.
That allowed Kirkland to make his debut – but it was not a happy one as North End went down 2-0 to League One outfit Peterborough United – then managed by Graham Westley – in the FA Cup at London Road.
After Pickford’s departure, North End boss Simon Grayson delved back into the loan market and borrowed Sam Johnstone once more.
The Manchester United ace had served PNE well during the successful promotion campaign the season before.
Unfortunately, his stint was a relatively short one as he returned to Old Trafford at the start of February and was replaced by West Bromwich Albion and ex-United keeper Anders Lindegaard.
Lindegaard has been Grayson’s preferred choice over the last three months of the season, although Kirkland came in and kept a clean sheet against Brighton at Deepdale when the Dane was laid low by a stomach bug.
A shoulder injury to Lindegaard away to Birmingham saw Kirkland make a substitute appearance at St Andrew’s and he played the full 90 minutes against Burnley on Friday.
Grayson has indicated that he would like to have a settled, permanent goalkeeper in place by the start of next season.
And Kirkland – who has made one appearance for England during his career – revealed he is feeling fit and believes there is still plenty of football left in him.
“I feel good – I feel fit,” said Kirkland. “I want to carry on playing until I am at least 40.
“I understand my body a lot more now. The last five years I’ve hardly had any injury problems.
“The problems I had in the past are firmly behind me now.
“Even when I was having those problems when I was at Wigan, I still wasn’t missing many games.
“People get this perception that you’re always out, which does wind me up a little bit.
“But hopefully it’s my chance over these next couple of games to put my case to the gaffer.
“It’s my opportunity to say to him, ‘Look, go with me next season’.
“That’s up to me, but if it’s not to be then whatever role the gaffer wants me to play, I will be more than happy to do that.”
Kirkland revealed he has held tentative talks with North End about extending his stay beyond this summer.
“We are talking at the minute,” he said. “We have been for a little while.
“Hopefully there is something there.
“The noises they have been making have been good.
“Obviously, I want to stay, but we’ll see. We will get this season out of the way and then we will see what is best for everyone.”
Despite the number of goalkeepers North End have used this season, Kirkland said it has not had an unsettling effect on him.
“The number of goalkeepers who have come in this season has not really affected me because I knew the situation when I came here,” Kirkland said.
“I knew what my role was going to be. It was not ideal, but I wanted to get back to the North West and Preston were brilliant with me.
“Coming here has worked out great for me. I would have liked to have played more games, but in terms of the number of keepers who have come in, it’s not affected me at all.”
Kirkland is hoping to be between the sticks for this weekend’s trip to Reading at the Madejski Stadium.
It is a chance for him to impress once more and also an opportunity for the team to pick up three points and move back inside the Championship’s top 10.
“The lads deserve to finish the season strongly,” he said. “Now is the time for us to get some recognition for how well we have done this season.
“If we can finish in the top 10 – it will be an incredible achievement and it might make people think, ‘Yes, Preston have done great this season’.”