Rob Elliot is looking to repay Rafa Benitez’s faith in him – after he backed him through his toughest time.
Elliot started the last three games of Newcastle United’s Championship-winning season.
The goalkeeper had to be patient after returning from a long-term injury because of the form of Karl Darlow.
Elliot – who had played two games for Benitez before rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament playing for the Republic of Ireland in March last year – was uncertain of his future last summer as he went through his painstaking rehabilitation.
But United’s manager was quick to offer him a new long-term contract that would keep him at the club until the summer of 2020.
“I spoke to him in the summer and had my operations,” said the 31-year-old.
He’s shown faith in me and looked after me by doing that. I’ve got massive respect for him. You knuckle down and wait for your opportunity and he gave me that in the Preston game.Rob Elliot
“We sat down and we talked. He said ‘is everything OK with you?’.
“Obviously, my contract was coming up. All I said to him was that my contract probably needed looking at.
“I’m was very unsure of my future before that, and before I started playing in the previous season.
“He was ‘OK, I’ll speak to Lee (Charnley, Newcastle’s managing director)’.
“A week later he said ‘we’ll have a meeting, and your contract will get sorted’.
“I ended up signing a new deal in the summer.
“I never really had to go and see him. He’d only been my manager for two games when I was fit and gave me a new contract while I was injured, was enough to me.
“I don’t think I needed to knock on his door and ask what he thought of me or what my position was.
“He’s shown faith in me and looked after me by doing that. I’ve got massive respect for him.
“You knuckle down and wait for your opportunity and he gave me that in the Preston game.”
Elliot returned to fitness last season, but he had to wait until late for a first-team recall at the expense of the unlucky Darlow, who had been consistent between the posts.
And the Greenborn-born player’s return would prove to be a memorable one.
Newcastle secured promotion to the Premier League with a 4-1 win over Preston North End at St James’s Park on his comeback.
“The Preston game was massive,” said Elliot.
“I didn’t expect to play. The manager told me on Sunday morning as I went out to training.
“He casually came up to me – we usually say hello in the morning – and said ‘I’m going to play you tomorrow’.
“It didn’t really sink in properly.
“While it’s been brilliant watching the club and the lads do so well, it’s been tough personally. You work for six or seven months to get back fit after a horrible injury at the worst possible time, and then Karl was playing brilliantly.
“You have to sit there and keep plugging away. It’s just great when you get your opportunity that you can help in some way. It’s just nice to contribute something.
“The lads have put the effort in and gone through the pain barrier. To contribute a little bit makes you part of that group.”
Elliot was going through his rehabilitation at the same time as United colleague Tim Krul, who had ruptured his ACL playing for Holland in late 2015.
“We did a lot of rehab together,” said Elliot.
“From May to August I was in and out with Tim, who I’ve known since I’ve been here.
“We were both going through similar things, and he went to Ajax and we kept in touch. It didn’t quite work out as well as he hoped there, as he was still trying to get fit.
“But it was great to see him playing at AZ, especially when you know how bad the injury is and how frustrating it is when you come back.
“It’s good to see him back playing and it was good to have someone to talk to who understands. It puts your mind at ease.”