Brighton goalkeeper Christian Walton is targeting Premier League football following the “great feeling” of his first competitive appearance for the club in almost six years.
The 25-year-old made his Albion debut in a League Cup tie at Tottenham in October 2014 and played three Championship games that season before being sent out on loan seven times.
He finally returned to action for the Seagulls during Saturday’s 2-1 FA Cup fourth-round win over League One Blackpool and now hopes to break into Graham Potter’s top-flight line-up.
“I was saying to my family it’s something like over 2000 days since I last pulled on a Brighton shirt – it’s quite strange really,” said Walton, whose previous Albion outing was a goalless draw with Middlesbrough in May 2015.
“Seven loans later and I am back in a Brighton shirt, it’s a great feeling.
“My main aim is to play in the Premier League and compete with the other two goalkeepers at the club – the competition in the group is very healthy.”
Much-travelled Walton has played in all three tiers of the English Football League. After temporary spells with Bury, Plymouth, Luton and Southend, he spent two years with Wigan before representing Blackburn last season.
The former England Under-21 international must make up for lost time after progress with his parent club was hampered by an ankle injury suffered in a pre-season friendly against Chelsea in August.
Since then, Spaniard Robert Sanchez has replaced the recently-departed Mat Ryan as Brighton’s number one, with Jason Steele providing back up.
Cornwall-born Walton has been encouraged to see head coach Potter handing opportunities to less experienced players and is ready to challenge 23-year-old Sanchez.
“I came back in the summer in a good position, I injured my ankle in the Chelsea friendly and it’s taken me a little bit of time to get back fit, but yesterday was really good for me,” said Walton, who was speaking to Brighton’s website.
“I have been in the gym and working on things you don’t usually get to do when you’re playing every week, which I have been for the last three years.
“I hadn’t really worked with Robert that much because I’ve been out on loan, but you can see he’s got quality.
“He’s a young goalkeeper and it will take him time to become a Premier League goalkeeper because it doesn’t just happen overnight, it happens over a course of a couple of seasons.
“It’s good that Rob has been involved. It shows that the manager is willing to give opportunities to players that are doing well.”