In a frustrating start to the season, where we’ve dropped late points in both our away games, there is at least the consolation that, even without last season’s player of the season, we haven’t fallen to pieces.
I know we had to wait until last Tuesday to keep our first clean sheet of the season, and Rob Lainton won last season’s award for his calm stewardship of a defence which routinely shut out the opposition. However, in his absence we’ve seen that Christian Dibble is a more than capable replacement.
We’ve had a glimpse of Dibble’s potential before. In his first season with us he burst into the side in dramatic fashion. Thrust unexpectedly into the action at Maidstone by a pre-match injury to Chris Dunn, he had conceded two goals just after the half hour mark: the first one looked bad but wasn’t his fault as a deflection left him with no chance; the second came from a cross he might have come for.
However, he bounced back with a string of fine saves, including a penalty stop, which meant he was the only choice as man of the match.
He kept his place for the next four games and continued to impress. Three wins and four clean sheets were the result, and he managed a second penalty save, crucially coming when the game against Bromley was goalless.
Dunn still wasn’t fit, and wouldn’t be for another five weeks, so Dibble had every chance to make a strong case to be first choice keeper. However, he suffered a freak injury and we used two more keepers, Callum Preston and Luke Coddington, as cover while Dibble and Dunn raced to fitness.
They both became available at the same time, for an FA Cup match at AFC Fylde, and Dunn was selected. He was impressive in a poor team performance, and kept his place for the rest of the season.
Dibble was unlucky. He only got one more shot in that campaign, and looked a little rusty in an FA Trophy game against Harrogate. Last season he was understudy again, this time to Lainton. He was limited to four matches, a couple of league games after Lainton broke down, and two FA Trophy consolation prizes Again, he let no-one down.
This time it might be different. We might be conceding more goals than we were last season, but the blame for none of them can be laid at Dibble’s door. Indeed, for me he was our best player in both last week’s away games and made a magnificent first half against Halifax, reacting remarkably quickly to a close range deflection from a powerful shot.
Having a full pre-season has undoubtedly helped Dibble to bed himself in, and he’s done very well. So well that it’s reasonable to ask the big question: is our player of the season going to go straight back into the side when he’s fit?