Azkals' Etheridge enjoying Bristol Rovers loan

By Edward Lao, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Oct 06 2012 06:45 PM | Updated as of Oct 07 2012 02:45 AM

BRISTOL – The Philippines' first choice goalkeeper is enjoying his current loan spell at Bristol Rovers FC, but admits it hasn't been a stroll.

Neil Etheridge joined the League 2 club in September on a month-long deal from parent club, English Premier League (EPL) outfit Fulham FC.

The 22-year old has played three games so far: a nil-nil draw against Fleetwood Town, a 2-1 win against Exeter FC, and a 1-nil loss to Cheltenham, where Etheridge was voted Man of the Match.

The British Pinoy says it has been a challenge adjusting to new surroundings and teammates.

"It has been hard to be honest, it has not been the easiest. It's a young team, quite inexperienced, the boys haven't played together a lot which makes it hard.

"It's a team that has just been put together. There is a lot of youth in there. The back four is quite new - myself as well. It has not been easy. It takes time to gel. We've been playing well but just haven't been getting the results we wanted."

Despite that, he told ABS-CBN Europe the friendliness of everyone at Bristol Rovers has helped him to settle in.

"I'm very happy. The boys have been really good, the manager is really good. They welcomed me really nicely.

"I'm here to play football, I'm doing well at the moment. It's a good start for me. I just want to continue moving forward and progressing."

Etheridge has two more games to play until his loan deal ends. The next is at the Memorial Stadium today (October 6) at 3 p.m. (GMT) against Northampton Town.

Since joining Bristol Rovers, Etheridge has helped the club climb out of the League Two relegation zone into 21st place. He is hoping to extend his stay in order to gain more experience, but concedes the decision is up to Bristol Rovers.

"I really want to play games and play football on a pitch, week-in, week-out. I just have to hold tight at the moment. The ball is in their court whether they want to extend it or not.

"As long as I'm playing games, I'm sure Fulham would be happy with it, but you never know what happens in football, things can change very quickly. At the moment I'm with Bristol Rovers but I'm still contracted to Fulham and I'll just do my best for whatever club I'm playing for."

As the city of Bristol is over 100 miles away from London, Etheridge has been living out of a nearby hotel to stay close for training and matches. He says it adds to the challenge.

"I'm fortunate in the sense that I'm used to being in hotels with the [Philippine] national team so it's not too bad, but it's not home.

"This is a learning curve for me, on and off the field, but I'm enjoying my football which makes things a lot easier."

Etheridge was also pleased about the Azkals' triumph in the recent Philippine Peace Cup, which helped the national team rise to 147th in world football (FIFA) rankings – its highest placing ever.

Asked if he was surprised about their performance, Etheridge replied: "Not really. I think we're a really strong team. We're not a team to be underestimated.

"The teams that we played were teams that I'd expect us to beat, without taking credit away from the players. No game is ever easy like I keep saying to everyone, but we did very well, and from what I've heard we deserved it."

In preparation for the upcoming 2012 Suzuki Cup, the Philippines will head to the Middle East for friendly matches against Bahrain on October 12, and Kuwait on October 16.

Etheridge was expected to participate, but due to current commitments, he confirms he will not be making the trip.

"Due to the fact League 2 doesn't have the international break, my priorities at the moment are staying here and getting some league games under my belt. It's time for me to prove myself in a league in England."

Although an Azkal regular with 37 captures, Etheridge is third-choice goalkeeper at Fulham behind Mark Schwarzer and David Stockdale.

The last time Etheridge featured for Fulham was on December 14 in the club's Europa League clash against Odense BK.