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Hoult remains quiet contender


By Alan Smith
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 09/12/2002

He's not brash, he isn't given to needless theatrics and he doesn't shout his case from the rooftops. Russell Hoult's consistency has done all the talking. That is why England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson sat there shivering yesterday in icy north London to run the rule over one of his goalkeeping options should he eventually decide to replace David Seaman.

For Hoult, though, this heady elevation into the national spotlight is met with laid-back equanimity. If it happens, it happens, seems to be the overriding attitude. Mind you, when you have been loaned out at one time or another to places like Kettering and Cheltenham, a sense of perspective never disappears.

But at 30, after a quiet sort of career spanning a multitude of clubs, it is all coming good for Hoult as he excels at the task of trying to help Albion prove that they can hack it in the Premiership.

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For the trip to Tottenham it was business as usual. Another defeat, however spirited it turned out, and another chance for Hoult to show what he's got.

This time, though, unusually for Albion, the defensive barricades fell down, leaving Hoult dreadfully exposed. An early free-kick started the rot, a free-kick which could have been handled much better. The wall was not right, it did not properly cover the right-hand post, irrespective of what Neil Clement was trying to do by rushing to and fro. Christian Ziege's low swipe comfortably found the net as Hoult took it out on those supposed to be blocking the shot.

Goalkeepers hate that kind of thing - being beaten so early before they have even warmed up. The chance would soon come, mind, because from then on, whenever Spurs tentatively ventured forward, it was clear that Hoult was going to be busy.

Suicidal defending on the half-hour presented Robbie Keane with a one-on-one. More criticism here, possibly, as Hoult went down early to make up Keane's mind. A delicate chip sailed over his dive.

But to pick holes in Hoult's game was maybe a little harsh given the number of times his defence let him down. It happened again before half-time. Again Keane approached, again Hoult advanced, this time managing to make good enough contact low down with his left hand so that the ball bounced up off the ground high enough to clear the crossbar. Great reactions and good agility, which Eriksson would have noticed from underneath his blanket.

Before the game was totally up, Hoult performed one last save, somehow managing to block Steffen Iversen's close-range poke with an outstretched foot. Unfortunately, the ball rolled straight to Gus Poyet, who hooked home himself.

If we are going on experience and form, maturity and composure, Hoult would surely win the day in a straight race with his rivals, David James, Paul Robinson and Chris Kirkland. Hoult's only disadvantage is that he plays for a so-called unfashionable club, one that will, in all probability, soon be back in the First Division.

Should that matter? Not really, assuming that Hoult has not by that time been pinched by an established Premiership heavyweight.

He deserves a chance, no doubt about it, and there is one coming up in February's friendly against Australia. Hoult for England - it is gathering weight all the time.

8 December 2002: Hoult's vintage ripe for England


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