Unbeaten in his first four games, including a clean sheet in his inaugural outing and a man-of-the-match display in his second – things couldn’t have gone much better for young goalkeeper Nick Townsend following his loan switch to Lincoln City.
The 19-year-old shot-stopper joined fellow academy graduate Charlee Adams at the Imps midway through February after the side from the Skrill Premier – more commonly known to most as the Conference – lost their first-choice custodian Paul Farman to a serious knee injury. Two days after agreeing an initial one-month stint at Sincil Bank, the Solihull-born teenager made his debut in front of more than 2,000 home fans and helped his new side gain a 2-0 win over promotion hopefuls Kidderminster Harriers. Townsend has been Blues’ substitute keeper for several cup games this season but this was his first taste of competitive action with a four-figure crowd in attendance.
“Walking out for the first time I had quite a few butterflies but once the match started you just concentrate on the game,” said the young keeper. “It’s helped a lot having Charlee (Adams) there as well. Obviously he had been there a couple of weeks before me so he helped me to get settled in and start talking to the lads. The fans have been class too – the atmosphere they’ve created at the two home games has been great.”
On playing in the cut and thrust of non-league’s top-flight, Townsend continues: “It’s more of a winning mentality compared to reserve and academy football. They do try to play good football but when you go on the pitch the main aim is to win the game. Three points is massive for getting the club where it wants to be. Lincoln are definitely a League Two set-up in the way they play and prepare for games.”
The teenager’s second match also came at home and on that occasion Gary Simpson’s side had to settle for a point from a 1-1 draw against relegation-threatened Chester. But if it wasn’t for Townsend’s heroics between the sticks, the Imps would have undoubtedly fallen to defeat. Frustrated visiting boss Steve Burr commented afterwards: “How we didn’t get all three points I will never know. Their keeper stopped everything that came his way.” Townsend’s performance earned him an impressive nine-out-of-ten rating from the Non-League Paper and he also made it into their ‘Team of the Week’.
However, the former Alderbrook School pupil remained modest about his eye-catching exploits: “It was a busy game for me, but there are times in a match where I need to perform well for the team and that’s just what I did. I’m trying to improve in every game that I play in and I’m doing well. I’ll be looking to keep it going until the end of the season.”
Townsend’s current loan deal expires after this weekend’s home game with Braintree Town, although Simpson has already declared his desire to retain the youngster’s services until the campaign’s end. With no one in the division, other than runaway leaders Luton Town, seemingly capable of putting together a consistent run of results, there’s still everything to play for with Imps ten points adrift of a play-off place.
“Hopefully we can try and get as many wins as we can and for me to keep as many clean sheets as I can,” responded Townsend, when asked about his aims for the remainder of the campaign, should his stay in Lincolnshire be extended of course. “I’d like to see us get into the top half of the table and maybe even push for the play-offs as well.”
Since joining the Imps, Townsend has been dividing his weekly training between the clubs, spending a couple of days at Wast Hills and the remainder working with Lincoln. Being the only fit keeper in the Imps squad has allowed him exclusive access to their goalkeeping coach David Preece, who has acted as the club’s substitute keeper on matchdays. And he admits that it’s been a beneficial experience. “I’ve mainly being doing one-on-ones (with Preece) which has been good for me,” says Townsend. “We’ve been doing a good hour before joining up with the rest of the players for training. The way he trains is different to John (Vaughan, Blues’ goalkeeping coach), which is good for my learning.”
When considering the main figures that have helped to mould his fledgling career to date, he adds: “Dave Watson had a big influence on me when he was at Blues, even though I only trained with him for one season. He taught me a lot about discipline and time-keeping too! Richard Steeples (academy goalkeeping coach) also helped me a lot because I trained with him for five years when I first came in.”
Townsend signed his first professional contract with Blues last year – a one-year deal that expires this summer – and his ultimate ambition remains to play first-team football for the club that he has always supported. At the tender age of seven he attended the 2002 play-off final with his dad, also an avid Blues fan, and learned a lot from watching his boyhood hero Maik Taylor expertly guarding the St. Andrew’s posts.
“It’s been great to be involved on a matchday with Blues for some of the cup games. Growing up and watching Blues from a young age, it was like a dream to be out there on the pitch. Hopefully one day I can make my debut,” says the keeper, who has been with Blues for more than a decade since joining the academy ranks as an U9 after being spotted playing for local team Callowbrook Swifts. “I’d like to still be here next season, but we’ll see how it goes. I just want to be as successful as I can and get league games under my belt. I’m not tall for a keeper, so some people judge me on my height. It’s good to go out on loan and prove what I can do. ”