Tom Heaton 'thoroughly enjoyed' rare opportunity for Manchester United

Goalkeeper made his first start for Red Devils in League Cup win over Charlton Athletic

Manchester United goalkeeper Tom Heaton during the League Cup quarter-final win against Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford. Getty
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It has taken a while, but Manchester United goalkeeper Tom Heaton, 36, made his first start in Tuesday’s 3-0 League Cup win against Charlton Athletic. We spoke to him after the game.

How was your starting debut over 20 years after your United reserve debut?

I have to say that it has been frustrating not playing. I was ready all the time, I knew that opportunities would be limited, so when you get an opportunity you try and take it. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

How did you think you did?

I felt solid. It has been a while since I played and it takes a few minutes to get back into your stride, but I’ve felt ready all along. I felt good in the pre-season friendlies and mid-season friendlies that we played. We’ve had a few games at the training ground where the manager has put me in and I felt good in those. I know you haven’t seen too much of me but I have felt at it and I enjoyed it tonight.

The main aim of the evening was to get through to the next round. I thought Charlton did a good job and made things difficult, but we went about our business really well and I’m delighted to be in the semi-final.

Did you ever go to the manager and say ‘I think I should be playing?’

We’ve had plenty of conversations. He talks to everyone. I saw opportunities and was slightly frustrated not to play in the earlier rounds. I had a bad time with injury in fairness so I was actually out for the first game and was coming back for the second when Martin [Dubravka] came in and did well.

It’s unfortunate when things don’t fall your way but I’m chomping at the bit to play games and get opportunities. They’ve been limited so far in my 18 months back at the club, but I’ve never taken my eyes off the ball and when I had the opportunity I really enjoyed it.

How do you see United’s goalkeeping situation?

I think he [manager Erik ten Hag] has been very clear for us in terms of he always sees it as performance-based throughout the squad and you can sort of see that in his selections since he’s been at the club. He wants competition for places and that comes down to making decisions on how players are performing. I think he’s been pretty strong with that through the whole squad.

When you see that as a player it’s great, you see players coming into the team when they deserve it, perhaps getting a rest when they need a bit of a breather and you sort of get that it’s down to the players with the shirt at that time and it’s down to the performance.

That’s been a clear message from him, there’s nothing different from our side of the fence, he’s been great in saying it’s performance based across the squad.

Do you have a bigger role to play in the squad other than being a back-up goalkeeper?

I hope so, I’ve played a fair bit of football over my career, I’m a little bit older than some of them. Which is great, that’s an important part of it, I enjoy that part of it, I was captain at previous clubs. I do quite enjoy that side of it.

But for me the priority is always the playing, it doesn’t go away. It can be hard at times. At the end of the day I’m always a big believer in the team and supporting David [de Gea], who has been playing most of the time, and giving him everything in support.

But it still comes back to the personal side of wanting to play and that drive to do that, the other stuff is there but it’s probably secondary. I’m also a realist, I knew the situation coming in. I’m not saying I’ll be banging on his door every week to get in the team, but you still want the opportunities to play so it’s a good night for that, I thoroughly enjoyed it. To have that feeling back out playing brings a new energy in your body.

United v Charlton ratings

Bruno Fernandes mentioned you as being a leader. Was that nice to hear?

It is, we’ve got a really good atmosphere in the dressing room, we’ve got some great characters in there, a good, tight unit. It’s been improving throughout my time here. Obviously results help, of course it does. There are some incredibly talented footballers in there but they’re all people at the end of the day and I think we all need a quiet word here and there, or a strong word depending on the scenario. Hopefully, I can offer that at times to certain individuals and I’d expect them to offer it to me as well.

Are you in the leadership group?

That was one of the things Erik started, five, six players. There has not been much of it recently. Harry as captain, Bruno as vice-captain, some of the senior lads involved in it. But if I’m honest that was more when he was setting his stall out at the start. He has been clear in his messaging, what he wants. He is very, very direct, which is brilliant for players, you know where you stand and what your responsibilities are. So it is not a major feature to be honest, more about the vibe of the group.

How has that changed from the chaos of last season?

He has brought a clear messaging, clear lines of what’s acceptable and what’s not. The responsibility on everyone, the professional side of it, and when you cross it he’s there to put you back in your place. I also think off the back of that we’ve been a little bit more successful so far, nobody is getting carried away, one game at a time. But when results are improving and everything is moving forward a little bit more, everyone is on the bandwagon and pushing for that and wanting that. So that’s been a key feature, his strength in what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable and carrying that through.

Does that genuinely translate to on pitch actions – and he has same approach no matter a player’s status?

Exactly. Everyone has a different view on it, that would be fair. My personal view is that I think that really does make a difference. When there is a consequence to players, a discipline, you know not to cross the line – if you do you’ll be out. I think Marcus’s response in that game was absolutely incredible. That’s the sort of thing it generates when it’s all moving in that direction. So for me yes it does translate to the pitch.

Updated: January 11, 2023, 1:32 PM