Karl Darlow reflects on a rollercoaster 12 months between the posts at Newcastle
Karl Darlow's determined to see off a challenge from Rob Elliot '“ and see the season out between the posts.
Darlow has been an influential figure on the pitch for Newcastle United since ousting Matz Sels from goal in September.
And Benitez strongly backed the 26-year-old after he made a mistake in last month’s 2-2 draw against Norwich City at Carrow Road.
Speaking at the time, Benitez said: “I’m happy with him, because he has been doing well.
“He has kept 11 clean sheets in all competitions, which I think is a great number for a player who has been doing well ever since he started playing.”
For his part, Darlow – who is keeping fit-again Elliot out of the team – is grateful for the “faith” United’s manager has shown in him during his year at the club, which leads the Championship by a point ahead of the April 1 home game against Wigan Athletic.
“I think it shows he’s got faith in me, which is nice,” said Darlow, signed from Nottingham Forest along with Jamaal Lascelles in the summer of 2014.
“There have been one or two (mistakes) here or there, which I think you’re going to have as a goalkeeper over the course of the season.
“I’m not dwelling on one or two mistakes when I’ve continued to perform well throughout the season.
“As long as we finish the season off well, I can say I’ve had a good season here and that’s the main thing for me personally.”
It is almost a year to the day since Darlow made his first appearance under Benitez after Elliot ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament on Republic of Ireland duty.
Elliot, 30, is pushing Darlow hard on the training pitch every day along with Sels, signed from Gent last summer.
“Everyone’s ambitious and wants to play,” said Darlow.
“Rob’s back from injury and he’s a terrific goalkeeper.
“He was unbelievable for us last year.
“He’s obviously getting better and fitter.
“For me, I’ve just got to carry on playing and do well.
“I can only take care of what I do.”
Benitez – who loaned 20-year-old goalkeeper Freddie Woodman to Kilmarnock in January – kept goalkeeping coach Simon Smith after succeeding Steve McClaren at Newcastle this season.
And Darlow believes the standards on the training pitch are very high under Smith, who also served under the late Sir Bobby Robson at the club in the early 2000s.
“The standard of the goalkeeping every day is excellent with Simon,” said the Northampton-born player.
“We have a great set of goalies, and you’ve got to carry on performing to regain that spot.
“It’s the same in every position.
“One of the reasons we’ve done so well this season is that no one’s taken their foot off the gas and thought ‘I’m in this position and I’m set for the season’.
“It’s kept a very high quality throughout the season.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s Under-23 side have been drawn at home to Reading in the quarter-finals of the Premier League Cup.
Peter Beardsley’s side reached the last eight with a 3-2 win over West Ham United at the weekend.
Newcastle beat Swansea City, Bristol City and Southampton in the earlier rounds of the competition. The club are yet to set a date and venue for the quarter-final.