Blackburn Rovers' David RayaPhotographer Rachel Holborn/CameraSportThe EFL Sky Bet Championship - Blackburn Rovers v Aston Villa - Saturday 15th September 2018 - Ewood Park - BlackburnWorld Copyright © 2018 CameraSport. All rights reserved. 43 Linden Ave. Countesthorpe. Leicester. England. LE8 5PG - Tel: +44 (0) 116 277 4147 - admin@camerasport.com - www.camerasport.com

Very few former Southport FC players have made it all the way to the top flight, although Brentford goalkeeper David Raya may be on the brink of joining this small, but select group. The Barcelona-born stopper has played a major role in helping the Bees climb the Championship table this season, and with the second tier pencilled in for a restart in mid-June, the former Sandgrounders loanee could be facing the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City next year.

The 24-year old arrived in Merseyside back in 2014, shortly after signing his first professional contract with Blackburn Rovers. He featured 16 times in the National League, and kept four clean sheets during his time at the Merseyrail Community Stadium. Raya has spoken in glowing terms about his spell on the coast, and has described his final appearance for the club in the FA Cup third round as his most memorable moment in football.

Soon after returning to Ewood Park, he made a handful of first-team appearances, although he was largely left on the bench until 2017. He started 45 times during Rovers’ League One promotion-winning campaign before swapping Lancashire for West London. He suffered just six defeats in his first 64 appearances and is still hugely popular with Blackburn fans as a result.

Raya’s current employers sit fourth in the Championship and have a five-point cushion over seventh-placed Bristol City. The Bees have earned plenty of plaudits for their pleasingly pretty style of football, although they have proven to be equally competent at the back. The Spaniard has been part of a defence which has conceded just 33 times in their opening 37 outings. And, with six clean sheets at Griffin Park this campaign, they are generally considered to be one of the meanest operators in the second tier

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With just nine games left to play, Thomas Frank’s side will be fancied to secure promotion this season, although they will need to recruit sensibly if they are able to reach the Premier League. Although Raya is unlikely to be usurped anytime soon, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the West Londoners add some competition in this area. The club’s recruitment policy is extremely savvy, and unlike many of the recently promoted sides, they are unlikely to do any panic buying. Near neighbours Fulham were widely criticised for their bolstering their squad in an erratic fashion two seasons ago, whilst Aston Villa appear to have taken a similar approach this time around. Dean Smith’s side are 4/11 in the EPL relegation odds to make an instant return to the Championship, and their failure to improve their squad last summer should act as a stark warning to the Bees hierarchy.

Raya will be one of a number of Spanish goalkeepers in the top flight, and will be hoping to come up against fellow countrymen David De Gea, Adrian, and Kepa Arrizabalaga next season. His time at Southport may feel like a long time ago, yet it will have played a crucial role in his development, and he looks back on his time by the seaside with great fondness. If Brentford make it to the Premier League this year, Yellows fans will no doubt be keeping a keen eye on the stoppers progress, and many will be hoping that he won’t be the last ex-Southport player to reach the highest level of English football.