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Walker ready for challenge

English Barclays Premiership

Ian Walker is preparing for one of the biggest fights of his professional life - fending off the challenge of Neil Sullivan to retain his number one spot at the Lane.

In his first interview since the end of last season and Sullivan's arrival on a Bosman-style free transfer from Wimbledon, Walker acknowledged it will be quite a fight for the goalkeeper's jersey and insisted: "May the best man win!"

Walker, 28, has held down his position as first-choice goalkeeper since regaining his spot from Norwegian Espen Baardsen back in December 1998.

He said: "It's a straight fight now between myself and Neil. Obviously we'll both be trying really hard to make sure we're starting in the team.

"Neil has come in as competition as far as I'm concerned. Nothing has been said so far about whether or not he's coming in as number one so it's up to him to come in and try and knock me out of the way. I'll continue working as hard as I can to make sure I'm starting but we probably won't know until the start of the season."

Walker was not surprised to hear of Scottish international Sullivan's arrival in May. "I'd heard little rumours here and there before he signed, so it wasn't a big surprise," he recalled.

"There is nothing I can do about players who are brought to the club. I've just got to do my job, show what I can do and hopefully that will be good enough to play.

"I've just signed a five-year deal so as far as I'm concerned I'm happy with that, but obviously I'm not going to be happy if I'm not playing, so that's an extra incentive.

"It's a good situation for the club because whoever is playing has got to stay in top form. We know if we make a mistake, the chances are we will be dropped. So it's good for the club but not so good for the person who isn't playing!

"We are both at that sort of age when you don't want to be missing games. If I got in, Neil won't be happy because of his international situation with Scotland as well and at his age, he doesn't want to miss out on any games and it's the same with me. We're not young anymore and want to play all the time. It will be interesting and we'll see what happens."

Whatever the outcome of this in-house battle, Walker insists the pair's relationship will not be tainted. "We get on really well. Every time we see each other we have a laugh and hopefully it will stay that way.

"I've always liked Neil and that won't change just because he's come here. I'm sure we'll have a great relationship in training and that won't change regardless. It will be interesting for the both of us. May the best man win, I suppose!"

Photographs courtesy of Action Images Ltd.

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