THE BIG KICK-OFF: Goalkeeper Ward’s sights are set on League debut with Cobblers

Lewis Ward working this week with new Cobblers goalkeeing coach Chris Day
Lewis Ward working this week with new Cobblers goalkeeing coach Chris Day

Lewis Ward has been at hometown club Reading since he was eight-years-old.

He is embarking on his 14th year as a Royals player, and the club clearly still rate the goalkeeper very highly, as he was awarded a new contract this summer, keeping him tied down at the Madejski Stadium for another two years.

If I have to wait, I have to wait and bide my time, but I am looking forward to having the challenge of fighting for my place

Cobblers goalkeeper Lewis Ward

Ward is a Reading lad, and clearly loves the club, but for the next 10 months at least his heart will be in Northampton after he signed a season-long loan deal with the Cobblers.

Having been trailed by Town boss Dean Austin for virtually the whole summer, the big shot-stopper finally put pen to paper on his move to the PTS Academy Stadium on Friday night.

It is the latest in a string of loan moves for the 21-year-old, with the most recent being at National League side Aldershot, who he helped into the play-offs last season after signing in the January transfer window.

In all he played 26 times for the Shots, having spent the first half of the season in National League South with Hungerford Town.

So the youngster does at least have plenty of senior games under his belt, but there is a crucial thing still missing off his lengthening CV... a Football League debut.

And Ward is hoping that joining the Cobblers will help him realise that dream, and see him take the next positive steps in his footballing career.

But he insists he isn’t taking anything for granted, and knows he faces competition for the goalkeeping role, with David Cornell and James Goff also on the books.

“It has been a long time coming for me to have the chance to make my League debut, so I am really looking forward to it. I can’t wait,” beamed Ward.

“If it has to be the case then I will wait a few weeks, but obviously I want to start (against Lincoln) on Saturday.

“If I have to wait, I have to wait and bide my time, but I am looking forward to having the challenge of fighting for my place.

“I know I am not guaranteed that, because that is football, so we will have to wait and see.

“I met up with the boys this week, and have been getting to know everybody and integrating with the group.

“I have to do that quickly so I am looking forward to it, and hopefully we can then get three points on the board on Saturday.”

An imposing figure, standing at 6ft 4in tall, Ward will certainly fill the frame of the goal, but what sort of keeper is he?

“I like to think of myself as a leader from the back, organising the defence, but if I have to get a little bit dirty and dive about then that is fine by me,” he said.

“I am there to do my job, and if that means making loads of saves then I will do that, if it means passing the ball out from the back, I will do that.

“I don’t mind whether I am making 15 saves a game or making one, because they are all as important as each other.

“We’ll just have to wait and see what the season brings.”

Although he has yet to play in the Football League, five months in the National League, the English game’s division five, is certainly more than handy preparation.

“It was a step up for me from Conference South, where I had been at the start of the season,” said Ward.

“Aldershot was great for me, and I couldn’t have asked for more.

“Gary Waddock (the manager) was excellent with me, the team was great, but sadly it didn’t end how we wanted it to with the play-offs, but I enjoyed my time there and learned a lot from it.

“Hopefully I can bring my experiences from there here, and kick on again.”

Last season was Ward’s first taste of the rigours of regular men’s football, and he loved it.

“I was delighted to sign a new contract at Reading, and I think I am in my 14th season there now, so I have been there for a while,” he said.

“But to be given that taste of playing Saturday-Tuesday, Saturday-Tuesday throughout the season, was just, well you can’t describe it.

“There are games all of the time, new and different experiences, different learning curves and I really enjoyed it.

“To be fair, there is nothing better than playing, so I am really excited to be here.”

Just hours after signing for the Cobblers on Friday, Ward watched his new team-mates see of a Manchester United XI 2-0 in their final pre-season friendly.

Plenty of senior and first team regulars players weren’t involved of course, with the likes of Ash Taylor, Matt Crooks, David Buchanan, Shaun McWilliams, Andy Williams and Sam Hoskins all given the night off, but Ward was still happy with what he saw.

He has come to the club because of its ambition, and the ambition of boss Austin, and believes he and Town will be fighting for promotion.

“I would like to think so,” said Ward, when asked if the team is capable of going up.

“I don’t know the boys personally yet, but I know the manager’s intentions.

“Obviously, promotion is part of the plan, so it’s part of my plan, and I am going to do everything I can to help get the team promoted back to league one.

“I am sure the boys will have the same aspirations, and things will this week be a lot clearer.

“We can all gel together and make sure we are going in the right direction.”