Newcastle look to be in safe hands – despite goalkeeping crisis

Rob Elliot
Rob Elliot

Rob Elliot thought he’d never play for Newcastle United a few short months ago.

How wrong he was.

Freddie Woodman

Freddie Woodman

Elliot, recovering from the thigh injury which had seen him miss the second half of last season, didn’t even travel to the United States for the club’s summer tour.

Bizarrely, United never even revealed he had signed a new long-term contract early last year until recently.

And Karl Darlow’s arrival proper this summer after a season on loan at former club Nottingham Forest seemed to nudge him a little closer to the exit door at St James’s Park.

Yet a little over two months into the new campaign, Elliot was back between the posts with Darlow and No 1 Tim Krul sidelined.

McClaren has just one fully fit goalkeeper for the weekend, but the future of the club’s goalkeeping department looks to be in safe hands.

The 29-year-old, barring a late setback, will be in goal against Bournemouth tomorrow despite having aggravated a thigh strain in last weekend’s goalless draw against Stoke City.

He had to kick with his weaker right foot in the second half.

If Elliot fails to prove his fitness, 18-year-old Freddie Woodman will make his Premier League debut.

Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Elliot – who hopes to go to Euro 2016 next summer – had little idea of what was to come after making his first 90-minute appearance in more than nine months in late September.

Just 253 fans were at a sunny Whitley Park to see Peter Beardsley’s Under-21s draw 1-1 with Swansea City.

After the game, Elliot, as unassuming as any Premier League footballer you will meet, was typically philosophical.

“It’s been a tough few months for me personally,” he said. “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 people as of you.

“I love being up here – you can’t ask for a bigger club. It’s just about getting as many opportunities as I can to show people what I can do.”

Elliot, mindful that the contract he signed early last year had gone unannounced, neatly sidestepped a question over his future.

The former Charlton Athletic player had committed his future to the club around the time Yohan Cabaye left for Paris Saint-Germain.

Newcastle, seemingly, didn’t want to make a big deal of Elliot’s deal at a time when supporters were unhappy at Cabaye’s departure.

Nothing more was said until the programme for last month’s home game against Norwich City belatedly revealed he had signed a “long-term contract” in January last year. The length of the deal was not announced.

Elliot, despite the new contract, is not the future at United. That is Krul, Darlow and Woodman.

But he is part of the present, as underlined by his big save from Stoke’s Jon Walters.

Woodman, meanwhile, will be understandably disappointed if he doesn’t make his Premier League debut against Bournemouth.

After all, he is fit. And he did well on loan for Crawley Town before being recalled after Krul suffered a season-ending knee injury on international duty with Holland.

Woodman, son of former United goalkeeping coach Andy, is as talented as any goalkeeper his age.

But McClaren, with his team scrapping near the foot of the league, is reluctant to play a teenager in goal.

“Freddie is 18 years old and this is a big league – it’s the unknown,” said the club’s head coach. “He’s certainly got ability and talent, and he’s a keeper for the future.”

England Under-19 international Woodman, certainly, doesn’t lack confidence.

He’s assured on and off the pitch. Woodman’s time will come, most likely sooner rather than later.

Speaking earlier this year, Woodman said: “I looked at the goalkeepers and how they’d been brought through – Steve Harper, Fraser Forster and Tim – I thought to myself ‘this club is the best chance for me to get the Premier League’.”

McClaren has just one fully fit goalkeeper for the weekend, but the future of the club’s goalkeeping department looks to be in safe hands.