The 'incredible' Newcastle United player singled out by Pep Guardiola
Back in January 2018, Rafa Benitez was desperate to sign a goalkeeper.
Many Newcastle United fans didn’t see the position as a priority for strengthening given the limited funds available at the club, which was then owned by Mike Ashley.
Kenedy and Islam Slimani also joined on loan that month, but it was the arrival of Martin Dubravka that would prove the most significant, and supporters quickly saw why Benitez had loaned him in when the Slovakia international made his debut against Manchester United at St James’s Park.
Dubravka made a string of saves – and kept a clean sheet – as Benitez’s side claimed their first home win in almost four months thanks to a goal from Matt Ritchie.
The signing of Dubravka would prove a shrewd move, and the deal was made permanent at the end of the season. Dubravka, at the time, was aged 29 – and coming into his peak years.
Now 33, Dubravka’s still a very, very good Premier League performer, and some supporters questioned the need for a new goalkeeper this summer given the clear need for attacking recruits.
Yet the decision to sign Nick Pope from relegated Burnley for £10million, like that to sign Dubravka midway through the 2018/19 season, already looks to be a good one.
Pope was outstanding in the club’s second game, the goalless draw away to Brighton and Hove Albion earlier this month, and he was again at his best in yesterday’s 3-3 home draw against Premier League champions Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola’s side at 10 shots on target, and Pope put in a dominant performance. The England international confidently dealt with most of what came his way on a busy afternoon at St James’s Park.
Guardiola singled out the 30-year-old – who hopes to go to the mid-season World Cup in Qatar – for praise in his post-match press conference.
“An excellent performance, so England has an incredible keeper there,” said City’s manager
High praise indeed. Fortunately for Pope, Gareth Southgate was at St James’s Park for the game.
Southgate also saw Callum Wilson, looking to force his way back into the England squad, underline his goalscoring credentials with a clever finish from an intelligent pass from Allan Saint-Maximin, who was also involved in United’s two other goals.
Wilson was taken off in the 69th minute as a precaution after feeling his hamstring.
“Callum was feeling his hamstring at half time, just a tightness, nothing more than that,” said Howe. “We just wanted to protect him form serious injury. He took his goal brilliantly. He’s so important to us.”
It was a sensible decision. Wilson is so important to Howe, who needs to sign another striker before the transfer deadline after letting Dwight Gayle leave the club.
Wilson’s tight hamstring was a reminder, if one were needed, of the need to strengthen up front, though the 30-year-old is hopeful that he can put last season’s injury problems behind him.
"For me, I’m anticipating playing in most of the games,” said Wilson. "I believe that if I was to play most of the games, I could score 20 goals.
Howe, though, knows he can’t be over-reliant on Wilson.
United did well to recruit Pope along with Sven Botman and Matt Targett, but, as ever, the club needs another striker.