Doncaster 0 Aston Villa 0: Sullivan's skills drive Villa crazy
26 January 2009 02:29
Doncaster hero: Neil Sullivan prevents Curtis Davies scoring for Aston Villa
He has a contract with Doncaster that will take him beyond the 'big four-O'. 'Why not play until I am 40?' Sullivan asked rhetorically. 'I feel fine. I've never had any serious injuries to worry about.
'As long as the manager is silly enough to pick me, then I will keep going.'
There was nothing remotely silly about his presence in the Doncaster goal on Saturday.
Three point-blank saves, the first a vintage reaction parry of a Gabby Agbonlahor effort, kept out Aston Villa and gave the home team the scoreless draw their thoughtful, delightful, if rather toothless football merited.
It is a rare day that 37-year-old Brad Friedel finds himself the younger of the two goalkeepers. Twice the American was beaten from long range and on each occasion the appropriately named Martin Woods was denied by the uprights.
'The performance was first class, I thought,' reckoned Sullivan. 'It showed that we are capable of competing against them at Villa Park.
It's not going to be easy and it's not going to be the same sort of game. But we'll go there full of confidence.'
Doncaster's Gareth Roberts and Aston Villa's Gareth Barry battlling for the ball at the Keepmoat Stadium
Who knows? It could be Merseyside next stop for Sullivan with the winners of Liverpool and Everton waiting in the next round.
As for that debut 18 years ago, Sullivan remembers a 2-1 victory and not much else.
He remained largely unknown and unheralded until, in August 1996, perversely conceding the 60-yard Beckham wonder strike that went on to be voted goal of the decade.
There followed for Sullivan player-of-the-year awards, 28 Scotland caps and moves to Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Leeds United.
Amid all that there was even talk of him being anointed the replacement for Peter Schmeichel at Manchester United.
Throw in two FA Cup semi-final appearances - for Wimbledon against Chelsea and for Spurs against Arsenal - and you get a career which, in terms of silverware, perhaps deserved more than the Johnstone's Paint Trophy of 2007.
As a two-decade boy-to-man stalwart of Wimbledon, the quintessential unfashionable club, Sullivan has no problem ending his playing days at Rovers, the one time butt of many a football joke.
'Let's not kid ourselves, this is a fantastic club, well run with a good chairman, a good board and a fantastic manager,' insisted Sullivan.
They have come so far, so quickly. The last time this observer attended a match in Doncaster in the late Nineties, the crowd staged a mass exodus. And that was when they were leading 2-0.
A coffin was carried around the streets to signal the death of the football club.
Doncaster's Brian Stock evades Villa's Craig Gardner
The then chairman, the notorious Ken Richardson, was eventually jailed for a bungled insurance scam involving the hiring of an ex-SAS soldier to set fire to Belle Vue. Some thought burning too good for the ramshackle stadium.
The club were without a manager, a sponsor and the yo-yo of promotion and relegation in the lower leagues had been replaced by the in and out of administration. All things of the past.
Current chairman John Ryan, the celebrated plastic surgeon who provided Melinda Messenger with a couple of synthetic falsies, has created a genuine modern club in a modern stadium.
It was a pity, therefore, that a crowd of 13,517 at the Keepmoat was a couple of thousand below capacity.
The Doncaster revolution deserves to be both told and supported. Manager Sean O'Driscoll would struggle in the first regard.
It is just as well Donny can play. He does not talk a good game. Not one that can be heard at any rate.
No wonder the whispering Irishman was nicknamed 'Noisy' when a Fulham player.
Martin O'Neill, who is looking for new signing Emile Heskey to further the education of Agbonlahor, among other things, treated both the competition and the opposition with the esteem they deserved by fielding a strong side.
'It's important for us because Villa have won the Cup seven times.' Not since 1957, though, a phrase he would like to banish to history.