Heurelho Gomes says he wouldn’t be disappointed if Quique Sanchez Flores names Costel Pantilimon in the Watford side for Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace, but the Brazilian admits he is ready and willing to play.
The 35-year-old is in arguably the form of his career, a fact highlighted on Saturday when he stopped not one but two Saido Berahino penalties to earn the Hornets a 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion. Yet the word is that Sanchez Flores, if he keeps his nerve and his promise, will play Pantilimon in goal at Wembley on Sunday.
Pantilimon has been flawless in three cup matches against Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Arsenal, particularly at the Emirates stadium where he only discovered he was playing minutes before kick-off due to a communication error. Gomes is already bracing himself for the news he will start on the bench.
“I’m always prepared to play but I’m not going to be disappointed if the manager chooses Panti,” Gomes said. “Of course, it’s up to the head coach to decide.”
What may prove to be an indicator as to who will get the nod at Wembley will be Wednesday night’s match against West Ham United. Gomes is fancied to start Upton Park as Nathan Gartside, 18, is considered too much of a rookie to be thrown into the lion’s den. Had Rene Gilmartin not dislocated his knee, it may have been a different story.
“All the focus is on West Ham,” Gomes said. “After the Arsenal game in the FA Cup, we probably focused too much on the semi-final. We paid the price for that. It depends on the mind of the players [if they will be focused on Wednesday’s match], I’m totally focused on the next game. You have to take it step by step because we know the importance of the Premier League as well. We want to finish as high as we can.”
Sanchez Flores has no qualms about fielding Pantilimon on Sunday. The giant Romanian would be first choice at most other clubs and kept Joe Hart out of the Manchester City side at one point. Chief executive Scott Duxbury pulled off a real coup in persuading Pantilimon to sign for Watford instead of AS Monaco when Sunderland, as we exclusively revealed, decided he could leave immediately on a free. The diplomatic goalkeeper didn’t want to discuss why he was frozen out by Sam Allardyce when speaking to us, but the Black Cats manager broke ranks on Saturday.
“[Victor] Mannone’s not made any sort of mistakes like Pantilimon did,” Allardyce told the Shields Gazette. “I know the player has left and I shouldn’t really talk badly about him. But the reason I brought Jordan [Pickford] back and got rid of Pantilimon was I thought he made too many mistakes while I was here. I don’t think Vito has done that at all.”
* Additional reporting by David Anderson
* Main image by Franziska Empl