Karl Darlow's finding out why football's the '˜strangest thing' in Rob Elliot's mind
It's a funny old game.
Just ask Rob Elliot.
If Newcastle United stay up, and that’s a big “if”, then the goalkeeper will done his bit. And the rest.
Now it’s up to Karl Darlow to do his bit for the relegation-threatened club, starting against Norwich City at Carrow Road tomorrow afternoon.
Yet Elliot started the season in the shadows.
The 29-year-old, as previously, had to wait for his time in the spotlight.
Having missed the second half of last season with a thigh problem, Elliot didn’t play 90 minutes until late September, when he turned out for the club’s Under-21s against Swansea City.
There were just a few hundred fans at Whitley Park that sunny afternoon.
Elliot, affable, grounded and intelligent off the field, spoke freely after the game as a handful of fans patiently waited in the car park for his autograph.
Elliot had seemingly been nudged towards the exit door by the arrival of Darlow.
Yet his commitment to the club didn’t waver.
Asked about his situation, he said: “You can’t judge what the future’s doing, you’ve just got to do your best every day.
“I love being up here – you can’t ask for a bigger football club.
“It’s been quite a tough few months for me personally. That’s football sometimes.
“You go from highs to lows and vice-versa. In football, as long as you give everything you can every day that’s all that can be asked of you.
“You just hope for the best and see what happens.
“Football’s the strangest thing in the world. Five years ago I was playing in League One. I’ve ended up playing in the Premier League and Europa League with Newcastle and playing for my country.”
A fortnight later, it happened.
Tim Krul suffered a season-ending knee injury, and with Darlow also sidelined, Elliot was back in the team.
Newcastle, as it turned out, were in safe hands.
And the reaction to the cruciate ligament injury suffered by Elliot playing for the Republic of Ireland duty this week told its own story.
Elliot had had his doubters before his most recent stint in goal.
Even the club chose not to reveal the fact that he had signed a new “long-term contract” in January 2014, around the time Yohan Cabaye was sold to Paris Saint-Germain, for fear of a negative reaction from some supporters. The news was eventually revealed in a programme interview 22 months later.
But there aren’t many doubters left, though one fan labelled Elliot “average” in a reply to a Twitter post yesterday.
United haven’t been average this season – they’ve not been that good – but Elliot, a keen cricket fan, has batted well above average for his team.
Had it not been for his many saves, the club would be all but relegated already.
And so it’s now Darlow’s chance.
With Elliot and 19-year-old Freddie Woodman, the club’s fourth-choice goalkeeper, having been away for internationals last week, Darlow trained with 17-year-old Paul Woolston at the club’s Benton HQ.
Darlow was in the position that Elliot found himself in all those months ago.
He has waited. And waited.
Now he has another chance to show he can play at the top level, having made a mistake on his Premier League debut against West Bromwich Albion in December.
In a message to fans, Elliot said: “When I was thrown in, people were unsure.
“But you supported me and had faith in me. I remember when I walked out for the Norwich game and the whole Gallowgate stood and applauded me. When you have the backing of the whole city, it lifts you and you take that confidence into every game.
“Karl will now get that opportunity and I know you will show him the support that you’ve given me.
“He’s a great guy – he gets what Newcastle is all about – and he works hard every day to get an opportunity like this.”
If Darlow needs inspiration, he doesn’t have to look very far.