No doubting Lee Nicholls' potential

Paul Heald knew Lee Nicholls would be a hit at MK Dons
Paul Heald knew Lee Nicholls would be a hit at MK Dons

Lee Nicholls could have been named man of the match in all three of MK Dons' opening games this season, but his coach would rather have seen him plucking the mud from his unused boots than making saves.

Paul Heald had no doubts when manager Robbie Neilson sought to promote Nicholls to the number one spot late last season ahead of stalwart David Martin. Having watched the keeper act as Martin's understudy for the year, Heald said Nicholls was the best back-up he had worked with and installing him as number one was a no-brainer once Martin was released.

Lee Nicholls

Lee Nicholls

"We always knew he would be fine," Heald said. "We knew he is a quality keeper.

"We were chasing him for quite a while. We tried to get him in on loan when we had those injuries.

"Andy King had him at Northampton and gave him his first few games when he was manager there. We'd looked at him but we couldn't get him but as soon as he became available, we were able to bring him in.

"It's a testament to him. He came in behind Dave, he got on with his job. There wasn't one moan or groan, even though he wanted to play. Then when he got into the squad, because of the way he was to Dave, Dave was behind him supporting him too. And Dave always said Lee was by far the best technical goalkeeper he had pushing him. It shows now.

Nicholls replaced David Martin as the club's number one towards the end of last season

Nicholls replaced David Martin as the club's number one towards the end of last season

"Of course you never know how it's going to go, but we all knew what Lee could do. I'd rather him not be as busy as he has been, but it shows when we need Lee, he'll do the job for us.

"Really though, I'd like him to be a spectator!"

The 24-year-old was one of a long line of potential successors to Martin, who spent seven seasons as Dons' number one before leaving the club in the summer. But according to Heald, while the likes of Ian McLoughlin and Cody Cropper came up short, Nicholls was the best suited to making a genuine challenge to Martin's number one jersey.

"Some keepers here have been unfortunate," Heald continued. "Players like Cody Cropper came in in the Championship. He didn't play many games, he came in at a difficult time, we didn't have many games and I felt he did OK. Then he got injured and we had to go with Charlie Burns.

Wieger Sietsma

Wieger Sietsma

"But when you look at Lee, he is more experienced. He's level headed, experienced, and had been in and around the first team at the highest level at Wigan. He's mentally strong for someone so young."

The goalkeeping unit has changed a lot for Heald over the summer, not only losing Martin but also Burns. But bringing in Wieger Sietsma from Dutch side Heerenveen, Heald feels Dons will have a capable back-up when he is called upon, especially when he gets more minutes under his belt for Edu Rubio's development squad.

He said: "We had Wieger in for a few weeks last year - he's a very level headed young man. He reminds me of Lee, really. He works hard, wants to play, but realises the job he's here to do. He's a technically solid young keeper, and when he's called upon, he is capable of performing well.

"I felt Cody, as a young keeper, needed to play games, and that's the only way keepers can improve.

"The more games Wieger plays the better he will be. It's a shame we didn't get clearance to play him in the games before we went to Hungary to give him some minutes. Wieger has been starved a bit, but it hasn't stopped him and he's working hard. But we know when it comes to match time, he'll be a bit rusty.

"Hopefully the games in the U23s squad will give him the minutes he desperately needs. But when he's needed, he'll perform at the high level we need."