Neil Sullivan was 36-years-old, had played for Wimbledon, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in the Premier League and was the owner of 28 Scotland caps. Sullivan joined on loan from Leeds United, where he was considered past his best, in November 2006 and established himself as first choice. In April 2007 he played in the team that won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in a thrilling final in Cardiff. His long kick provided the assist for Paul Heffernan’s goal, the second in a 3-2 win over Bristol Rovers. It was no surprise when ambitious Rovers signed him permanently in May 2007.
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In 2007-08 he was an ever-present in the Football League as Rovers finished in third place and made it through to the League One Play-Off Final. There they came up against Sullivan’s old employers, Leeds United. Rovers were considered the underdogs in the Wembley final but won 1-0 thanks to James Hayter’s diving header early in the second half. Sullivan’s calm presence and organisation at the back helped to ensure a clean sheet and promotion to the second tier after a 50 year absence.
Over the next two seasons Sullivan missed only one league game as Rovers held their place in the Championship, finishing 14th and 12th. In 2010-11 he suffered an injury in February and handed over the gloves to his young deputy, Gary Woods, but he returned towards the end of the season as Rovers just managed to stay up. Thereafter he largely gave way to Woods and during 2012-13 he spent several months on loan at AFC Wimbledon, the successor to his old club. With Woods having lost form and confidence, Sullivan was recalled in March 2013 into a team whose promotion charge was stuttering. He helped Rovers win the next two games and then was in the team that faced Brentford in a match that would determine who went up to the Championship. Having kept a clean sheet for 90 minutes, Sullivan had to face a stoppage time penalty and his antics may well have distracted taker Marcello Trotta, whose kick hit the crossbar. The rebound was cleared and James Coppinger broke away to score a winning goal that sent Rovers up as champions of League One.
That Brentford game was to be Sullivan’s final outing for Rovers as the 43-year-old hung up his gloves and took up a role on Leeds United’s coaching staff. His international quality and experience were key components in Sean O’Driscoll’s great Rovers teams and he deserves to be remembered as one of our finest ever goalkeepers.
Name: Neil SULLIVAN
Born: Sutton, 24th February 1970
Signed for Rovers: November 2006 from Leeds United
Left Rovers: June 2013, Leeds United coaching staff
Appearances: League 197, Cup 20