Life just can’t get any better for Hibs kid Kleton Perntreou at present, the teenage goalkeeper having enjoyed the most remarkable couple of weeks of his fledgling career.
A fortnight ago he was the hero as Hibs Under-20s defeated SPFL Development League leaders Aberdeen, knocking the Dons out of the SFA Youth Cup on penalties, while, at the weekend, he marked first start in Alan Stubbs’ side with a clean sheet.
It’s a transition the youngster, born in Albania, has taken in his stride, displaying a confidence which belies his 19 years. His rapid promotion has left little time for nerves after going from being more known as the kid with the foreign name to frontline Championship duty.
But he insists it fully vindicates his decision last summer to switch from Bristol City to Edinburgh, his belief he would get more of a chance with Hibs realised as he played in virtually all of the club’s pre-season matches as Stubbs searched for an experienced No.1.
Even so, Perntreou admitted he could not have envisaged the twist of fate as first-choice goalkeeper Mark Oxley sustained a back injury that forced him on at half-time for his debut against Cowdenbeath and then, as the on-loan Hull City star continued to struggle, being handed the gloves for the visit of Queen of the South.
Today he said: “It’s been an incredible couple of weeks. At the beginning of the month the Under-20s had enjoyed a great result away to Aberdeen, knocking them out of the Youth Cup with me saving a penalty in the shoot-out. It was a really good experience for the boys.”
And so on to Central Park where Perntreou took his usual seat on the bench, watching on as goals from Paul Hanlon and Jason Cummings gave Hibs a two-goal lead at half-time, the knock which Oxley had suffered giving him no hint of what was to follow as he spent the interval out on the pitch with goalkeeping coach Alan Combe.
He said: “Mark looked fine, but his back got tighter and tighter. It never crossed my mind that I’d be going on, but when I went back inside the gaffer asked, ‘Are you ready?’ I had to get my head switched on very quickly and perhaps it was good that way. I didn’t have any time to get scared or start worrying.
“The conditions were terrible. I knew it was going to be hard to catch the ball or to put your foot through it because the ground was so soft, but it was just a case of concentrating. I had one save to make, their guy hit it from 30 yards, the ball was moving all over the place so I was just happy to get it away with David Gray stepping in to complete the clearance.
“There wasn’t much I could do about their goal. It set up a nervous final 20 minutes or so, but the guys in front of me did a great job for me, I was really pleased with them.”
While Stubbs had his fingers crossed that Oxley would make Saturday’s match, Perntreou was aware he would be called upon again should there be a problem. To ensure the youngster did not run any risk of injury, 40-year-old Combe went in goal as an over-age player as the Under-20s drew 1-1 away to Celtic.
“Mark was with the physio all week, but it wasn’t until Friday I was told I’d be playing again,” said Perntreou. “I have to admit I woke up a bit nervous on the morning of the game, my first start, my home debut in front of our own fans. However, as the morning wore on I got more and more chilled about it. This is what I’m doing with my life and I’d been hoping for the day I’d get my chance.
“You can’t start having a doubt about wanting to play. Of course, being a young goalkeeper is a bit different to being a young outfield player, you know one mistake is likely to cost your side a goal. As a goalkeeper you need to be a strong character, to be focused and to be able to concentrate totally.”
Perntreou admitted, however, that it was difficult finding that balance between carrying out what he has been taught, and trying to catch the manager’s eye. He said: “You want to make the gaffer want to play you in every game, but the danger is that in trying to impress you make those little mistakes, perhaps coming for a ball you know you should leave well alone and the like.
“It’s about coming in and doing the normal stuff, to do the simple things right and not try too hard to impress. Both Mark and Alan told me not to try to do anything special, to play my normal game. That was good because sometimes people can give you too much advice – do this, don’t do that – and you end up mucking up your head trying to do what everyone is telling you.”
While Perntreou admitted his full debut was a day to remember – every goalkeeper treasures a clean sheet – he agreed there was a sense of disappointment in having to settle for a no-scoring draw, the fourth time in succession Championship games at Easter Road have ended in stalemate.
He said: “I was pleased with a shut-out, naturally, but it would have been better if we’d managed to get a goal. But I think a lot of teams come to Easter Road, try to make it hard for us and try just not to be beaten. We had a lot of possession, a few shots on target, but unfortunately we couldn’t get the one goal that would have won the game for us.
“I didn’t have too much to do, other than coming from my area to head a ball clear, but while a bit more action would have been good, I think on my first game I was quite happy to have a quiet-ish afternoon.”