AS a youngster growing up in his native Essex, whenever Joe Lumley played football in the garden with his brother, he would elect to go in goal.

Donning his gloves, he was hardly short of goalkeeping idols to look up to. Petr Cech perhaps, playing on the other side of London at Chelsea? How about Edwin van der Sar at Manchester United, Jens Lehmann at Arsenal or even someone like Gianluigi Buffon, renowned as one of the world’s best with Italy?

Instead, when Lumley needed shot-stopping inspiration, he looked to the North-East. A respected figure in the early part of his career at Sunderland, a firm favourite at Newcastle United, and a strong success during a brief loan spell at Middlesbrough, Shay Given was Lumley’s childhood goalkeeping inspiration. Even now, he regards the retired Irishman as someone to look up to.

“When I was younger, there was only ever one goalkeeper I wanted to be,” said Lumley, who has followed in his hero’s footsteps by taking over as number one at the Riverside. “Shay Given. I honestly don’t know why I was such a big fan, I guess I just loved the way he played and his passion for the game.

“Whenever I used to watch Match of the Day, I couldn’t wait to watch him. I don’t know why it was – there were probably a lot of other keepers a lot more high-profile and successful than him – but he was always the one for me. He always seemed to make a big save.

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“I tried to base my game around him. I used to play in the garden with my brother, and I used to be Shay Given. I met him when he was the goalie coach at Derby – I didn’t tell him I was such a big fan though. I tried to play it a bit cool.”

From games in the back garden, Lumley progressed to the youth set-up at Tottenham, where he spent six years honing his skills before his release without being offered a full-time scholarship deal resulted in him being picked up by QPR.

His formative years in Tottenham’s academy were a key part of his footballing development, and while he might not have made it to Spurs’ first team, some of his contemporaries have become key performers for his first club.

“There wasn’t really anyone from my actual age group that really came through,” said Lumley. “But Harry Winks used to train with us from a younger age group and you could see straight away how good he was. He was brilliant. From the day he came up with us, he didn’t stand up as being young, he was right up to scratch.

“Then we used to have a day release once a week where, as keepers, we would go up to a higher age group and that was where I trained a few times facing Harry Kane. That was some experience. Tom Carroll and Andros Townsend were part of that training group too, and we’d sometimes train with them too. It was certainly some standard.”

Lumley’s eight years at QPR were punctuated by eight different loan spells, at clubs as diverse as Bishop’s Stortford and Blackpool, before he left London to move to Middlesbrough last summer.

He started the season as first choice under Neil Warnock, but was left out of the starting line-up for the former manager’s final two games in charge and did not return to the side under current boss, Chris Wilder, until December’s trip to Stoke City, which saw him keep a clean sheet in a goalless draw.

The Northern Echo: Joe Lumley has established himself as Middlesbrough's first-choice goalkeeper under the club's current boss, Chris Wilder

“I was really disappointed to be left out of the team,” said Lumley. “I want to play every single game, but you can’t control what the manager’s decisions are. That’s part of being a footballer, not just a goalkeeper – you get dropped, and it’s then about how you deal with it.

“I didn’t let it affect me in any way, I just kept on working as hard as I could. Even if I know I’m not playing, I still prepare as if I’m starting the game, but if you’re out of the side, it is a time when you can maybe spend a bit more time working on certain aspects of your game. For example, physically, you can do a bit more work in the gym. I think I took it well, and used it to try to improve.”

Lumley’s efforts were rewarded by his return to the starting line-up, and in his six league appearances under Wilder, he has conceded just three goals.

His performances have convinced Wilder he does not need to recruit a new goalkeeper this month, with his impressive shot-stopping being allied to a comfort distributing from the back that is an essential requirement of the way in which the Boro boss wants his team to play.

“First and foremost, the most important task for any goalie is to keep the ball out of the net and keep a clean sheet,” he said. “But the way the gaffer wants us to play now is a lot different to previous times.

“For me, though, it’s the way I’ve been brought up through academy football and it’s something I feel very comfortable with. I’m really enjoying it.

“A goalkeeper has to be a complete footballer really now. Obviously, you’re not going to be as fit in terms of running as the outfield players, but you’ve got to be as good on the ball and, mentally, your concentration probably has to be even better.

“You might not have anything to do for 15 minutes, but you’ve got to be 100 per cent focused for 90 minutes.

"That’s the biggest challenge of being a keeper. Can you make that massive save at the end of the game to influence the result? Hopefully, I can.”