Kirkland lands at Rovers keen to prove a point

FORMER England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland returns to the spotlight with Doncaster Rovers against Leeds United tonight admitting his career needs a ‘kick up the backside.’

Kirkland’s arrival at the Keepmoat Stadium, on loan from Premier League club Wigan Athletic, is yet another headline grabbing move by Rovers in the wake of the sacking of manager Sean O’Driscoll.

French defender Pascal Chimbonda and Congo international Herita Ilunga have already joined the Championship club and new manager Dean Saunders still has former Real Madrid star Mahamadou Diarra and former Liverpool striker El-Hadji Diouf in his sights.

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Kirkland has played only one first-team game in the last 12 months for Wigan but will go straight into the Rovers side tonight as a replacement for the veteran Neil Sullivan.

His career has not been helped by a series of injuries but he insists that he has been fully fit and available for the last two seasons.

“I am very grateful to Doncaster for giving me an opportunity to come and compete,” he said. “My career has gone backwards the last 12-18 months, I have not played a lot, and I feel I need to give myself a kick up the backside.

“When you go from playing all the time, which I have done for the majority of my career, to not playing, it’s difficult. You question yourself, you lose your confidence, and you get worked up which doesn’t help.

“I definitely have to prove something,” he added. “I am not hiding that. I have got to rebuild my career.”

Kirkland made his one and only appearance for England five years ago against Greece and was the most expensive goalkeeper in British football 10 years ago when he joined Liverpool in a £6m deal.

Now 30, he remains open-minded about his future but is keen to stay in the Premier League. His wages, meanwhile, will be heavily subsidised by Wigan during his stay in South Yorkshire.

“For the next three months, I am going to be totally dedicated to Doncaster,” he said. “It would be ideal to have options in January because, if I have options, that should mean I have done well.

“Everyone goes through tough parts in their career and only you can get yourself out of it which I’m determined to do.

“Who knows where it will lead? The most important thing is Doncaster have given me a chance. I don’t know if I have a future at Wigan but, if I don’t take this chance, I know I will kick myself when I look back.”

Saunders expressed gratitude to Wigan for help in funding the move. Former Rovers striker Graeme Jones is now Wigan’s assistant-manager and he was also involved in the negotiations.

“We couldn’t get anywhere near Chris’s wages so we have to thank Wigan for their help,” said Saunders. “We have three good goalkeepers now. Neil Sullivan has not done a lot wrong but I got the opportunity to sign Chris for a fraction of his salary. I have to think of the future too. Neil is 42 and, when he comes to the end, what do we do? The ideal scenario is Chris plays well and somehow he agrees to sign for us and takes peanuts!”

Saunders, meanwhile, insists that the club’s interest in Diarra and Diouf is far from a publicity stunt. Diarra, 30, is still a free agent after leaving French club Monaco last summer while Diouf, 30, was released by Blackburn Rovers and has been talking to super rich Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala.

“They are thinking about it – but we have not got down to making them an offer,” said Saunders. “Getting them to come here, when you think where they have played, is hard for them to get their heads around but sometimes you give people time to think and they think its a good idea.”

Both players would need to agree to play for a minor percentage of their normal wages – but, again, the incentive would be a chance to parade their talent ahead of the New Year transfer window.

Rovers had gone 18 games without a win prior to Saunders’s arrival yet host Leeds tonight buoyed by a return of seven points from his first three games in charge.

Full-back Ilunga is set to make his debut tonight but Chimbonda has still to reach the required level of fitness. With other players returning from injury, Saunders accepts that he will soon have a problem keeping his squad happy but is still adamant that his transfer policy will work.

“We had won three games in 36. If you can get the players in who are better than what you have got, you do it. Anybody would,” he said. “The players we have brought in have not been in a relegation battle, they have not gone 18 games without winning, and they are confident. All three are earning less than everyone else in the squad which is hard for people to understand.”

Rovers are hoping for a sell-out crowd tonight despite the fixture being shown live on TV.

“The town seems to have come alive and hopefully, the supporters we have lost, maybe we can get them back,” said Saunders.

Last six games: Rovers DLLWDW, Leeds LWWLDW.

Last time: Rovers 1 Leeds 2, August 23, 2011, Carling Cup.

Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).

n Grayson expects test: Page 24.