After EPL debut, Etheridge looks forward to tough season
Even after making history, Filipino international Neil Etheridge knows that his debut season in the English Premier League will be the most challenging yet of his career.
Proving his mettle, the 28-year-old Etheridge, who remarkably climbed from the third and second divisions the past three seasons to the top flight this year, saved a first half penalty, but his club, Cardiff City still suffered a 0-2 defeat to Bournemouth in their season opener last Saturday.
But the debut of the Azkals goalkeeper meant he already has something that can never be taken away from being the first Filipino and Southeast Asian to play in the Premier League.
“It was interesting,” Etheridge said of his debut. “I tried to keep it normal. I tried not to think about it too much. Of course, there was alot of nervous energy. It was a good start, but not the result that we wanted.”
Representing a country that doesnt consider football as one of its top sports, Etheridge said he felt overwhelmed at the amount of media coverage his debut got from from Asia.
“I didnt expect a wave (of support),” he told the Inquirer over the phone. “When you go on phone and on social media, there was alot of buzz in the Philippines which is fantastic for people who didnt know about the game.”
He added: “Of course, it’s fantastic. It’s a huge honour to help to push Southeast Asian football – and Asian football as a whole – forward.
Etheridge could do little to prevent the two goals that Cardiff conceded. But he went full stretch to keep out Callum Wilson’s penalty that prevented the Welsh side from going two goals down in the first half.
“Honestly, at this level, you just decide and make sure you have strong hands and hope for the best,” said Etheridge on his penalty save. “The Premier League is just a whole new level. The pace is quicker. The strikers are more clinical and they dont need alot of chances to score which makes the job of goalkeepers even difficult.”
Etheridge said every game this season will be a battle for his side, considering the quality of opposition in the Premier League.
He will also be counting on the support of Cardiff’s fans in home games starting on Saturday when the Bluebirds host Newcastle.
“We have that team togetherness and workrate that money cant buy,” said Etheridge. “I hope that we can learn from what happened during the weekend. Our supporters will play a large part during home games and we look forward to a good start at home.”