Tilson's little men think big in the wake of United slaying

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The Independent Online

While Manchester United's players prepared for the "recriminations" promised by Sir Alex Ferguson after their defeat by Southend on Tuesday night the Championship's bottom club were beginning to appreciate the scale of their achievement.

In the immediate aftermath of their dismissal of the Carling Cup holders both the manager Steve Tilson and the goalkeeper Darryl Flahavan said that it had not yet sunk in.

Now Tilson is facing up to the probability that he will lose his match-winner and leading scorer, Freddy Eastwood, in the transfer window. Flahavan, meanwhile, is enjoying the sensation of striking a blow for the "little people".

At 5ft 11in the 27-year-old is hardly a midget but he is short compared to his goalkeeping peers. In 1970 the Derby County goalkeeper Les Green was 5ft 8in but no first-choice 'keeper in the Premiership now is shorter than six foot - most are 6ft 4in or taller. Not since the Aston Villa goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer, in 1980-81, has there been a top-flight title winner of Flahavan's height.

During Flahavan's early days at Southampton it appeared his lack of inches might prevent him making it as a professional. But after a spell with Woking, in the Conference, he was signed by Southend's then-manager, David Webb. Aside from a spell when he went off the rails in the wake of the death in a car accident of his brother Aaron, who was on Portsmouth's books, he has not looked back. "When I was at Southampton I felt I was good enough to get a game in the Premiership - but obviously my height went against me," said Flahavan, who made a series of saves, notably from Cristiano Ronaldo. "Goalkeepers do get stereotyped as needing to be a certain size, but I am what I am and I can only deal with what I have got. I am never going to be as big as some of the goalkeepers out there, but technically I am pretty sound. It was just a case of having to get out there and prove I could do it.

"My year at Woking stood me in good stead. I was only 20 at the time, and at that age a lot of lads are either in the reserves or still playing youth football. Things went well for me there; I got my move to Southend and I have just been progressing ever since."

Flahavan may nevertheless struggle to convince Premiership managers, unlike Eastwood who has been scouted all season. A bargain £40,000 signing from non-league Grays Athletic, Eastwood, who impressed with his general play as well as his goal against Manchester United, attracted a £1m bid from Derby this summer. "Top clubs have been watching Freddy all year but hopefully we can keep him," said Tilson. "We will see what happens in January but we can certainly put the price up now."

Eastwood, 24, has scored 59 goals in 103 appearances. Tilson added: "While I am not saying the chairman will sell him, there is no way anyone will get away with making a silly offer." This rather suggests he is for sale, even if the chairman Ron Martin yesterday said not.

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Desperately short of strikers, but Eastwood is not the big name the supporters will crave at St James' Park.

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