A FEW weeks shy of his 33rd birthday, and 16 years after turning professional, James Bittner finally made his Football League debut in Argyle’s 1-1 Sky Bet League 2 draw at home to Morecambe.
The Pilgrims’ goalkeeper ended a run of nearly 50 hours’ duty as understudy to Luke McCormick when he came on as a half-time substitute for his injured team-mate.
“I’ve been sub many a time, but never come on the pitch,” said James, who has represented seven other clubs in his lengthy career, including Exeter City and Torquay United, and been a regular performer in the Conference.
“I loved the experience – any debut is nice – apart from the circumstances. It would have been a lot better if it was three points, of course.”
The circumstances were a first-half injury to Luke on the same left hand that he damaged a week short of exactly a year previously, which prematurely ended his campaign. It occurred after Morecambe striker Padraig Amond followed up a superb stop by Luke that kept the score goalless.
“It’s the same hand as last year; not the same injury,” said James. “It’s a little higher up, nearer the knuckle. He’ll have an x-ray on Monday, so we’ll see. Obviously, he was in a lot of pain. It’s one of the downfalls of being a goalkeeper.
“He made a great double save. He saved a one-on-one, jumped up, and got the rebound. The forward’s followed through and caught his hand and the ball at the same time with his foot. He’s sandwiched it.
“Luke was going to see how it was at half-time but he said, probably three-quarters of the way through the first half, that it wasn’t right, so I knew I was coming on at half-time. Being my age, you need to warm up for a while.”
James was beaten seven minutes after coming on, when Jack Redshaw finished off a Morecambe corner routine to level Reuben Reid’s 14th goal of the season which came in first-half injury-time.
He said: “I’ll be honest, when that goes in, you think ‘Oh dear – one of those days, maybe’. It was a set-piece we’d worked on all week, which was a bit disappointing for us, as a defensive unit. It could have been avoided.
“Luckily, we kept a clean sheet other than that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t score at the other end, which was a bit disheartening.”
James ensured Argyle claimed a point from a tight game when he kept out another Redshaw shot.
“He came through, taking on Kelvin [Mellor] on the outside, and shot from a very tight angle,” said James. “You try to make yourself as big as possible and hope the ball hits you.”
Argyle’s next game is their long-haul to League 2’s bottom side Hartlepool on the last day of January. Whether he is between the posts or back on the bench, Bitts will be doing his bit again.
He said: “What’s happened today has happened; we’ll see what happens this week.
“In a way, it’s harder than it is against top teams; away from home against a team playing for their lives – they are probably harder to play than Luton or Shrewsbury at home, maybe. It’ll be a tough game, but one we are ready for.”