Manager Alan Knill believes that “a different mind-set” is a key ingredient in the form that has seen Martin Rice lay claim to be Torquay United’s number one goalkeeper.
It was a pre-season thigh injury to Michael Poke which saw former Exeter City and Truro City shot-stopper Rice promoted to the first team.
Poke has returned to full training and he is due to have his first run-out in next Tuesday’s reserve friendly against Plymouth Argyle at Plainmoor but he faces a major job getting Rice out of the side, and Knill is more than happy with the status-quo in goal at Fleetwood Town tomorrow.
“Martin came back for pre-season in good shape, maybe even lost a bit of weight,” said Knill, “but I also think that he’s had a different mind-set.
“Before the players left after the end of last season, we sat down and I told Martin that he needed to be a number one goalkeeper. It is possible to make a career of being a number two, but we agreed he shouldn’t settle for that.
“It so happened that Michael Poke got injured, and it was an easy decision for me to put Martin in. If it hadn’t worked, I would have had to go and get another goalkeeper, but you can see how determined he’s been and how confident he’s looked.
“Kenny Veysey [goalkeeping coach] also deserves plenty of credit. Ricey was outstanding in pre-season, and now he looks as though he’s been a first-team goalkeeper for years. I’ve had no sleepless nights over that position.”
Although he’d played many times for Exeter, Truro and Torquay in either Conference or non-League games, Rice did not make his Football League debut until, at the age of 26, he took over from the injured Poke in a 1-0 defeat at Barnet last November.
He then started in a 0-0 draw at Oxford United four days later and also deputised for Poke in away defeats at Southend and Gillingham.
Now it is Poke who must try to dislodge Rice from United’s first team, which will be a major achievement in itself.
Rice played well again in Tuesday’s 0-0 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy draw against Portsmouth, including a top-class tip-over from Sonny Bradley’s close-range header, although he could not save United from defeat in the penalty shoot-out.
Knill added Poke is unlikely to be considered for the Fleetwood game, where scholar Conor Thompson should keep his place on the bench.