With Newcastle not yet safe from relegation, back-up goalkeeper Rob Elliot has a big few weeks ahead of him.
Following the news that Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, the pressure of a relegation scrap is now firmly on his replacement Rob Elliot.
For many years, when a Newcastle ‘keeper got injured there was only one alternative. As custodian of the back-up gloves for two decades, Steve Harper made 197 appearances for the Magpies.
And yet at 38, his time at St James’ Park is approaching its end, leaving Elliot as the man to assist in a battle his team had seemingly escaped with their 1-0 win over Fulham.
And yet the 3-0 humiliation at the hands of Sunderland leaves them with plenty to do in what remains of the season.
With five points between Alan Pardew’s side and Wigan in the final relegation place, it would seem a fairly routine end to the campaign. But the Latics have two games in hand, and are on a run that suggests two wins are not impossible.
With a further four sides below them, it seems highly unlikely Newcastle will begin next year as anything other than a top flight team. But in a year when the team destined for 18th place is impossible to call, Newcastle are not exactly showing the form that suggests survival.
Their next game – away to West Brom – is a must-win to prevent the nerves becoming anything more than that.
Which means all eyes will be on Elliot in the season he has finally made the breakthrough into the first team following his move from Charlton Athletic.
Having been used predominantly in Europe, Elliot was given his chance due to previous injuries to Krul.
And yet in six Premier League games this season, Elliot is yet to keep a clean sheet, conceding eight goals in his last three matches against Wigan, Manchester City and Sunderland.
Krul’s record is not noticeably better, but he was between the sticks for the crucial win (and clean sheet) against Fulham that put daylight between the Magpies and the Championship.
Upon arriving at St James’ Park in 2011, Elliot spoke of his desire to become the team’s number one. Two-and-a-half years on he has achieved his ambition, if only for the rest of this campaign.
How he performs in the coming weeks will have a huge bearing on his future. How big a bearing it has on the future of his club remains to be seen.
Could Elliot realistically challenge Krul for the number one spot? And how will he perform in the coming weeks?
image: © mikebrown59