By Tony Leighton
Ipswich Town goalkeeper Scott Loach has reclaimed the club's first-team jersey and is aiming to hang onto it as the Portman Road outfit - which Loach has supported from his boyhood - battle for npower Championship survival.
Former England Under-21 keeper Loach was signed from Watford last summer and began the season in the starting line-up, but in October he was dropped in favour of on-loan West Ham United keeper Stephen Henderson.
Then, after regaining the number one spot following the end of Henderson's loan spell in early January, Loach lost his place again when he sustained a thumb injury and Henderson was brought back in for a second loan spell.
But the Hammers keeper returned to his parent club at the end of March and now Loach, after keeping clean sheets in each of the three games he has played since returning to Mick McCarthy's team, is determined to make the job his own.
"Before I was dropped under [previous boss] Paul Jewell," Loach told football-league.co.uk, "I was doing well. But I made a mistake against Cardiff City and got dropped. It wasn't my best of games, but one mistake in 10 games isn't bad.
"When 'Hendo' came in it pushed me that bit harder. Hendo's attitude was spot-on, but he's gone now and I've got to do what Hendo did, but go one better. That's my aim, and I'll be working hard and aiming to improve all the time.
"The most important thing is to keep up my performances and show the gaffer that next season, 'you don't need to bring in a number one, I'm your number one.' That's what I came here for and that's what I want to be."
Loach has five games of the season remaining to convince McCarthy that he should be the club's first-choice keeper again next season, hopefully for everybody at Portman Road with the Tractor Boys still in the Championship.
They lie seven places and six points above the relegation zone and look comparatively safe. But don't tell the keeper that they are safe, and certainly don't tell McCarthy, a manager for whom Loach has the utmost respect.
McCarthy reckons that the Championship is "bonkers," what with the surprising number of shock results, bizarre scorelines and the table constantly changing as teams move up and down - and then up again!
There is nothing bonkers, however, about the way that McCarthy has transformed the team's fortunes after taking charge in November with Town bottom of the table and five points below the safety places.
Loach said: "You only have to look at us since the gaffer's been here. It's not pretty football, but his priority is keeping us in the league. The form table since he came in shows it, and as an Ipswich fan it's a dream for me to be playing here.
"The gaffer's great to work with. You only have to look at his CV. He's managed at the World Cup - who doesn't want to work with a manager of that calibre? He trusts the players and the players trust him."
That mutual respect has resulted in a fine recent run, Ipswich losing only once - and conceding just one goal - in their last eight matches. "We've put ourselves in a good position," said Loach, "but you can never say you're safe until it's done."
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