Rob Elliot has spoken of his pride at repaying the faith Rafa Benitez has shown in him, having been thrown into the Newcastle starting XI out of the blue.
Very few, apart from those in the know, expected United No 1 Karl Darlow to be dropped for the game that sealed promotion - Monday’s win over Preston at St James’s Park.
I found out Sunday morning. The manager calmly told me to use my experience
But Elliot, who was told he was playing on Sunday morning by Benitez, was handed his first Magpies start since March 2016, ending an injury lay-off that has lasted more than a year.
And the keeper played his part too, making a number of vital saves in the opening 45, when the game and United’s hopes of automatic promotion back to the Premier League still hung in the balance.
Elliot says he was delighted to be trusted to picked for such a momentous occasion in the club’s recent history.
Although he was quick to praise the man he replaced, describing Darlow as the best goalie in the Championship.
“It was amazing,” he said of his SJP return.
“I only found out on Sunday morning. The manager, very calm, just told me I was playing and to use my experience.
“To come back from the injury in the first place and then to help the lads in the tiniest way, because I can’t take any credit for what they’ve done this year, was just brilliant.
“Obviously I’ve had to sit behind the best goalkeeper in the league this year in Karl, who has been absolutely magnificent. But the manager likes to rotate the squad and he has given me a chance.
“I was just really pleased I could just help the lads and go from there.
“It was magnificent to be able to tick off that box after recovering from injury.
“I was fit in December, I played an Under-23s game, and I’ve had to wait and wait. So on a personal level I’m really pleased.”
Elliot was full of glowing praise for the role Spaniard Benitez has played during his lengthy spell on the sidelines.
“He was brilliant and just kept pushing me,” said the Republic of Ireland international.
“A couple of times I wanted a break and wanted to go away because I’d just had a baby and was moving house. But he said ‘No, you have to keep working, you have to keep pushing’.
“In six months I was back on the pitch playing and that’s the kind of person he is. There are lads playing with injuries and he keeps pushing them, and not in a bad way. He makes the lads feel important and makes them want to put their bodies on the line.
“A special mention as well to the physio Seen Beech and doctor Paul Catterson for helping me through my injury because they were unbelievable as well.
“My relationship with the manager has been great from day one.
“It has been frustrating in the last few months but I can’t blame him. You usually turn on the manager but no, the team is doing well, Karl is doing great. Rafa has shown all his experience and class in looking after an injured lad. And to give me an opportunity on Monday when nobody would have expected me to play, I’m just glad I could repay him and we got over the line.”
Meanwhile, Ryan Shawcross says he’s not joining Newcastle United “at the moment”.
The Stoke City defender has been linked with a move to St James’s Park in the summer.
And Shawcross – who has a year left on his deal at the Britannia Stadium – has reacted to talk of a move to Newcastle, who secured promotion to the Premier League last night.
Asked about the speculation, Shawcross told The Sentinel: “I’m not going to Newcastle – at the moment.
“It’s paper talk. I’ve got a year left on my contract, and any time a player comes to the later stages of his contract, there’s going to be talk.
“All I can do is concentrate on Stoke, and hopefully play well.
“I can only stay where my contract ties me to, and as long as there’s a contract I will stay.
“I enjoy working under the manager and everything is good, but when you only have a year left you have to think about things, but there’s been no talks so far and that’s where we are at.”