THE cup competitions have always played a big part in the career of Jamie Ashdown.
Not only is the Leeds United goalkeeper the proud owner of both an FA Cup winners’ medal and a losers’ medal from his days with Portsmouth, but the 32-year-old also enjoyed one of his career highlights when appearing in the UEFA Cup.
Now at Elland Road, it should perhaps come as no surprise that the two domestic knockout competitions have taken on a big significance for Ashdown, whose four appearances for the Yorkshire club all came during the run to the Capital One Cup quarter-finals.
“I kept a few clean sheets and the team got some excellent results so I really enjoyed the League Cup run,” the summer signing tells the Yorkshire Post as the attention today again returns to knockout football ahead of Birmingham City’s trip to Elland Road on FA Cup third-round weekend.
“When I signed in the summer, Neil Warnock told me that I would be back-up to Paddy (Kenny). I accepted that and immediately got my head down and got on with working hard.
“Paddy was always going to start in the league, but I hoped I’d get a chance in the cup and that’s how it has panned out.”
Ashdown, who is hoping to get the nod today in goal as virus-ravaged United host Lee Clark’s Blues, impressed in those first few outings as the Premier League scalps of Everton and Southampton were added to that of Oxford United.
Against Chelsea in last month’s quarter-final, a string of fine first-half saves ensured Leeds were able to go in at the interval a goal ahead before the European champions belatedly started to display their class to run out 5-1 winners after a rampant second 45 minutes.
“That first half against Chelsea was special,” says Ashdown. “It was a full house and the atmosphere something else. That was a great occasion, even though we lost.
“Chelsea showed what a fantastic team they are that night and really turned it on in the second half. But we still had lots of positives to take out of the night, not least our first-half performance and the fact we were ahead at half-time against the European champions.
“That showed what we are capable of, as did our wins over Everton and Southampton. The Everton one was particularly impressive as they are a very good Premier League team, as can be seen from where they are in the table.
“So, all in all, the League Cup run was great not just for me but also the team. The results gave us a big lift in the league and, hopefully, another positive result against Birmingham in the FA Cup will do the same.”
Ashdown has particular cause to recall the world’s oldest knockout cup competition fondly due to being part of the Portsmouth squads that reached the 2008 and 2010 finals.
He was on the bench in both as understudy to David James, as he had been in the two semi-final wins over West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur. But that did not prevent the Reading-born goalkeeper from relishing every minute of those two Cup runs.
So enjoyable was the 2008 final, in fact, that even hitting the national media headlines for the wrong reason in the wake of Pompey’s 1-0 win could not detract from the experience.
“Along with Glen Johnson, I was unfortunate enough to have my winners’ medal stolen on the night we won the Cup,” he explains.
“Someone broke into the team hotel and took both mine and Glen’s. They went to a fair bit of trouble, too, as I’d put the medal in my jacket, which I then put away in a safe place.
“Glen Johnson was the same as his medal was in his washbag, which was inside another bag. We were so careful, but it did not do us any good as someone broke in and stole both of them. The thieves clearly knew what they were doing.
“As you can imagine, it was awful. Our wives and girlfriends had joined us for the celebrations so it was a great party. But then we found out what had happened.
“Thankfully, we got sorted out with replacements from the FA. A Cup winners’ medal is precious so it would have been awful to not get mine. I know I didn’t play in the final, but I was part of the squad and felt honoured to do so.”
Today sees injury-ravaged Birmingham head to West Yorkshire looking to repeat their October triumph in the league, when Leroy Lita’s stunning second-half strike was enough to settle a disappointing game.
With Leeds having taken 18 points from their last nine outings, however, confidence is high in the home camp as manager Neil Warnock looks to mastermind another Cup run for the Yorkshire club.
Ashdown, who kept a clean sheet against Heerenveen for Portsmouth in his only UEFA Cup appearance in 2008, said: “I would love to be able to play again. Paddy is the No 1 and I accepted that straight away.
“I said then and say the same now – I just want to help Leeds in any way I can. But it would be good if I could play, even though it can be hard to come in every four or five weeks to play,
“You can do all the training you like but playing a game is totally different. Playing every game means you get into a rhythm, which just isn’t possible when you only come in once in a while.
“You have to get your eye in quickly. An early save could make all the difference, of course. But often things don’t work out like that and you might go quite a while at the start of a game before you are called into action so you have to keep your focus.
“The key is to just concentrate on dealing with whatever comes your way and, hopefully, help the team.”