Etheridge extends Bristol loan, doubtful for Suzuki Cup

By Edward Lao, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Oct 22 2012 03:35 PM | Updated as of Oct 22 2012 11:35 PM

BRISTOL – Philippine Azkals first-choice goalkeeper Neil Etheridge has extended his loan at Bristol Rovers until Christmas, casting doubt on his availability for November's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.

Etheridge, whose parent club is English Premier League side Fulham FC, impressed during his five-game spell at the club.

He received the offer from Bristol Rovers upon returning from the Middle East, where he was on international duty with the Philippines.

In a telephone interview with ABS-CBN Europe, Etheridge said others knew about the loan extension before even he did.

"I didn't know about it. In fact, it was put over the news. Mark McGhee (the manager) had released it without even me signing the papers so he was obviously quite confident I would sign," Etheridge said.

But because of his extension at Bristol, Etheridge does not expect to be available for the AFF Suzuki Cup, a biennial tournament which will be co-hosted by Malaysia and Thailand this year.

"It's going to be really difficult for me to get out to the Suzuki Cup. The odds are definitely against me," Etheridge said.

"I have spoken to (Azkals team manager) Dan Palami and coach (Michael Weiss). They know that it's going to be difficult for me to travel," he added.

"So it looks like Roland (Muller) will be taking the No. 1 spot for a few of the games, but one of the ideas is that I will fly out for maybe the semi-finals if we reach it."

Muller is the second choice goalkeeper at MSV Dulsburg and spearheaded the Azkals' goalless draw against Bahrain last week.

Etheridge concedes the decision is purely with Bristol manager McGhee.

"In all honesty, it's going to be down to the manager. I don't really want to get involved. It'll be a last minute decision if anything," he said.

Even if he cannot make the biennial tournament, Etheridge said the Philippines is strong enough without him.

"Considering the recent result we got against Kuwait and the way we play our football now – definitely, I think that we’re a stronger force in Southeast Asia," Etheridge said.

"There are three great games in the group stage, so we'll have to perform every single game, but the depth we have in our squad now is a lot stronger than it has been in previous years," he added.

"It is good because it gives coach a hard decision, but also at the same time we can rotate the squad."

Etheridge has helped the Bristol Rovers move away from the League Two relegation zone into 20th place. He has so far played in six league games, notching a record of three wins, two losses and one draw.

Bristo Rovers gave Etheridge his professional league debut and he is pleased with the progress he is making at the club.

"I've had a good start to my loan move and I wanted to extend it, so it's time for me to gain more experience and get some league games under my belt," he said.

Etheridge's last game for Fulham came last December in the Europa League against Denmark’s Odense BK.