Etheridge makes return to Premier League with Cardiff
Filipino international goalkeeper Neil Etheridge completed his remarkable rise from England’s lower leagues back to the English Premier League (EPL) on Sunday after his club, Cardiff City, earned promotion following a goal-less draw with Reading in Cardiff, Wales.
But unlike his first stint in the EPL with Fulham where he climbed the ranks from the academy to back up goalkeeper, Etheridge makes his return to the top flight as Cardiff’s bonafide starter, having played 45 of the club’s 46 league matches, keeping 19 clean sheets in the English Championship.
“It’s just amazing,” said Etheridge. “The team has been strong all season and to finish it the way we did is just fantastic. You just can’t say a lot right now. It’s just overwhelming. I’m just happy to get over the line today.”
The achievement caps an incredible past five weeks for Etheridge, who also helped the Philippine Azkals clinch a spot in the AFC Asian Cup for the first time last March 27.
Cardiff’s qualification hopes actually looked in peril when Etheridge returned as the Welsh club picked up just a point in their next three matches.
But the Blue Birds recovered with a couple of wins in their next three matches, putting them in a strong position to gain outright promotion.
With third running Fulham losing to Birmingham, 1-3, earlier on Sunday, Cardiff wrapped up second place with 90 points for the second automatic promotion spot.
What made Etheridge’s campaign this season all the more remarkable was the fact that he was signed from third-tier side Walsall initially to serve as back up keeper.
But a strong preseason put him in manager Neil Warnock’s plans and although he struggled for a few matches in December, Etheridge regained sharp form in 2018, helping Cardiff to eight straight wins that boosted them to promotion.
Shortly after Fulham was relegated from the Premier League in 2014, Etheridge actually struggled to find a club for almost a season until Walsall took a chance on him.
Should he keep his position at Cardiff, Etheridge will be the first Southeast Asian to play in the world’s biggest and richest league where the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham are all seeing action.
“I’m just looking forward to the challenge,” said Etheridge. “I definitely learned from past experiences and I want to continue improving myself. I don’t think I’ve reached my potential just yet. I just want to play as many games as possible at the highest level.”
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