MARTIN KELLY may or may not be back at Town next season, but one thing’s for sure – he’ll always have a soft spot for the club.
That was assured 62 minutes into Saturday’s showdown at Walsall, when the defender on loan from Liverpool curled home his first senior goal – and sealed Town’s 3-2 win in the process.
It’s a milestone for any footballer, and while not one to blow his own trumpet, Kelly was quietly satisfied as he reflected on his goalden moment.
“It was extra special because it clinched a win,” said the player who turns 19 on Monday and who has been with Liverpool since he was seven.
“Jim Goodwin delivered the ball in, I got a nice touch to turn the defender and then good contact with my left foot.
“As soon as I hit it I thought it would take a good save to stop it, and I was made up when I saw it go into the corner in front of all our fans.
“I’ve scored a few in academy and reserve football at Liverpool, but they’ve all been headers or tap-ins.
“This one was a shot from the edge of the box and even more pleasing.”
The classy strike cemented a comeback win which looked highly unlikely before Andy Booth’s 43rd-minute opener against the run of play at the Bescot Stadium.
Town, chasing their fourth successive away win, had started poorly and fallen two down to a couple of well-taken shots by ex-Leyton Orient striker Jabo Ibehre.
Walsall were in control, but Booth’s first was soon followed by his second – a textbook header from Goodwin’s corner – and the game was turned on its head.
“We started off very poorly,” admitted England Under 19 international Kelly, who is mainly a centre-back but has played either left or right-back in his five games for Town.
“But the two goals in quick succession really rocked Walsall, and in the second half, I thought we turned them over and deserved our win.
“We fought well and we fought as a team, and it was great to be able to reward our fans, because I think they are brilliant.”
Town’s solid backing – their average home gate ahead of today’s clash with Brighton was 13,232 and second only to Leeds and Leicester in League I – was a big attraction for Kelly when the chance of a loan stint arose.
“A few clubs were showing an interest, and I decided on Town after a chat with Gary Ablett (the Liverpool reserve boss),” said Warrington-based Kelly.
“Gary said he has been to the Galpharm and was impressed with the set-up and support.
“And I was impressed with Lee Clark and the coaching staff.
“They are all people I can learn a lot from, and so far, I’ve really enjoyed the experience.
“Everyone at the club has been fantastic, and as I said, the fans are first-class, home and away.”
Clark has gone on record over his desire to persuade Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez to agree to a season-long loan for 2009-10.
And Kelly, who was originally picked up by the Anfield club after attending a summer soccer school run by Alan Kennedy then tutored by another former Kop hero Steve Heighway at the Liverpool academy, isn’t averse to the idea.
The man who earned a place in the League I team of the week for his display at Walsall is certainly seen as a star of the future by Liverpool, where he played in last season’s FA Premier Reserve League title winning team.
But the 6ft 3in, 12st 5lb player’s football education is ongoing, and it could be that Benitez sees an extended stint in League I as being highly beneficial.
Clark said: “I have explained to both Liverpool and Martin about where we want to get to, and I’d like him on board.”