Wolves No.1 Carl Ikeme is the best keeper Kenny Jackett has worked with.
But tomorrow Ikeme will be out to deny one of the men who gave him a break at this level. Bradford boss Phil Parkinson took Ikeme on loan in October 2009 when he was in charge of Charlton. The Wolves shot-stopper played four league games for Parkinson, winning two and drawing one, in his month-long spell.
But while Ikeme returned to Molineux and Charlton went on to finish fourth in League One, the season turned out to be a memorable one for Jackett. His Millwall side pipped Charlton by a point to finish third and went up through the play-offs, beating Swindon 1-0 at Wembley.
Charlton are one of eight clubs Ikeme has served on loan in nine different spells – the same number new England sensation Andros Townsend has had from parent club Tottenham.
But Jackett is convinced Ikeme’s nomadic footballing past and that spell under Parkinson has played an important role in shaping the finest keeper he has worked with.
“First-team football definitely does help you, whether a loan spell goes well, badly or indifferently,” said the Wolves head coach.
“It’s good experience. You see what suits you and what doesn’t through every set of games and circumstances.”
Asked if the 27-year-old is the best he’s worked with, Jackett said: “So far. It’s only been a short period of time, but his contribution has been top class.
“Carl has the presence to come and take crosses but he also has the agility to get down low and make saves in the bottom corners. So he has a lot going for him.
He’s very similar to David Forde at Millwall actually.
“Forde is a very determined character and, while they’re totally different people, they’re both very capable goalkeepers and have a real strong presence in and around the 18-yard box that’s quite imposing.
“It’s a feature of David’s game and he’s done well in recent matches for Ireland.
“Carl has a similar presence, where if you’re crossing the ball and it’s floated too high, there’s a real good chance he’ll come and get it.”
Jackett is convinced the Brummie keeper can go on improving for some time yet.
“He’s 27 now so you’d think the next 10 years are going to be his best,” he said.
“Goalkeepers come to their peak maybe slightly later than outfield players.
“He’s had a good start to the season and the good thing for him is his best years are ahead of him. So he’ll want to continue and hopefully grow with us. But I’ve been very pleased with him. He’s had a good start.”
Jackett feels Ikeme, who has kept six clean sheets in League One this season, has been helped by the defence around him.
“Carl’s been part of a pretty good and solid unit so far – four from a regular five players,” he said.
“The distribution from that area has been quite good as well – it’s not just central defenders – particularly Scott Golbourne and Matt Doherty have made big contributions going forward.
But Jackett revealed Ikeme wasn’t always such a shoo-in for the No.1 spot when he arrived in during the summer.
“It was a very close call between the goalkeepers when I came in because we had Dorus De Vries as well,” he said.
“But De Vries moved to Nottingham Forest pretty early on and through the friendlies we moved the keepers around.
“Carl came through in that and in the opening months of the season, he hasn’t looked back and has built on the competition and the opportunity of being No.1 here.
“Perhaps he’s had that at times before and then lost it again. I’m sure now he’ll be determined to keep it and make sure his form and concentration are as good as they have been because there’s no way he’ll want to lose his place again.”
This is the first time Jackett has managed against Parkinson at this level since 2009-10. He probably wouldn’t mind a repeat of their head-to-head record that campaign, however, after a 4-4 draw at The Valley, with Millwall playing for almost an hour with 10 men, and a 4-0 win for the Lions at the New Den. Wolves’ haul of 29 points from their first 12 games this season is in stark contrast to Millwall’s return of 15 from the same period.
Four years on, Jackett feels it’s a different League One now – with no room for error, leaving him relieved Wolves remain in touch with Leyton Orient and Peterborough.
“The league has become stretched already but, when you look back, different teams have come from different positions to end up getting promotion,” he said.
“You can’t have anything done by now but it also indicates if you’re 15-20 points behind by the middle of October, it’s a tough call to make it up after that.
“You can do it and have the belief, but you have to make your players and supporters believe they can do that.”