Just over 10 to go, Newcastle United have held on with 10 men for 70 minutes against Norwich City in a must win game and lead 1-0 thanks to Callum Wilson. The ball comes in from the right and Martin Dubravka parries it straight to a Norwich player, who centres for Pukki to equalise. That familiar gut-wrenching feeling.
Another game we could and probably should have won and more individual mistakes.
While Newcastle are linked with every player in existence during this mad January transfer window, one position that is seemingly not under consideration is that of goalkeeper. Shortly after the takeover, I was surprised to see the media suggesting our first major singing was going to be that of a goalkeeper, surely not our most pressing need? But considering the points that were being won by our goalkeeper are now being dropped in games like Norwich, do we need to consider a revamp of the position during the summer?
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Newcastle did the unthinkable for most clubs but something indicative of the Ashley era back in August, submitting a 25-man squad list which contained four goalkeepers. We were told by Steve Bruce this was due to injuries. However, it felt far more likely we needed to make up the numbers due to a lack of incoming signings.
To assess the goalkeepers, we need to examine their position in the squad, their contract situation and their fit in the new regime. Currently the least likely to see any playing time is Mark Gillespie. When he was signed there was a range of reactions from, he should be starting in front of Karl Darlow (Dubravka was injured) to disbelief and it was a sign the takeover was over – as were signing back-up goalkeepers from Motherwell and not scouting Europe’s elite. Gillespie was not signed to ever see much game time (and he hasn’t apart from a couple of league cup games and a howler against Newport) but merely to act as the third-choice goalkeeper and an additional home-grown player.
Clubs such as Man City have had Richard Wright (and more recently Scott Carson) as a third-choice goalkeeper and Gillespie fills this role. He is experienced and cheap. For this reason, you could argue that Gillespie’s spot is the safest of any of our current goalkeepers.
Freddie Woodman is arguably the hardest of the four goalkeepers to assess. Two fantastic seasons at Swansea, linked with moves to top six clubs and a product of our academy. However, after proving himself as one of the top goalkeepers in the Championship, the obvious next step would be game time in the Premier League. Woodman’s opportunity came at the start of this season with Dubravka injured (again) and Darlow recovering from Covid.
During his four-game run in the Premier League, Woodman conceded ten goals and, although this included three penalties and little help from his defenders, he didn’t do anything with this opportunity to instill confidence he was an upgrade on Darlow or Dubravka, or that he was the long-term option for the football club. Signing a three-year contract in August 2020, Woodman starts the last year of this deal in the summer and it may be time for United to cash in (perhaps a return to Swansea on the cards?).
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Darlow has had a mixed time during his Mags career but I have always been a fan of his – who can forget his penalty heroics against Forest in the Championship? He has his limitations as a stopper and although a decent option as a number two, he has had to play in more games than is ideal in the last two seasons. Often flattering to deceive with his dramatic and spectacular stops, this is sometimes his downfall, trying to make a spectacular save when a simple one would do.
He lacks the presence of someone like Dubravka which gives that extra confidence to the back line, allowing them to step up that extra yard or two and doesn’t deal with those balls into the box with enough assurance to be a top level ‘keeper. Darlow signed a new five-year deal in 2020 knowing he was not going to topple Dubravka, so it seems unlikely he would be easy to move on. Earning £25,000 – £30,000 a week, the richer Championship clubs or perhaps a newly promoted side are the only clubs likely to match this sort of salary and therefore it seems likely he will remain at the club in this backup capacity.
Onto our number one, our Slovakian hero and a player who is hugely popular with fans at St James’ Park. Dubrakva arrived on loan from Sparta Prague in January 2018 was and it was hard to know if he was going to be a Matz Sels or a Tim Krul.
Dubrakva has arguably been our best goalkeeper since Shay Given and put in performances that have almost single-handedly won us points. When the takeover happened a lot had him listed as one of the players who could survive and be part of the new era. Although he has shown flashes of his normal self, we have already seen multiple mistakes since his return to the team. Dubravka has at least been partly culpable for goals against Norwich, Man City, and most recently Cambridge. Dubravka has not only put in a few shaky performances, but his injury record over the last two seasons is also a concern, missing 25 games last season and 12 already this. That combination does not scream ‘confidence’ and therefore looking at alternative options is a must.
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With Dubravka we saw how a new goalkeeper can really lift the team. An instant improvement in form occurred after his signing, including the great win against Man United on his debut. Liverpool had to upgrade the position to take them to the next level and, although we aren’t yet talking in the same league as them, this is increasingly looking like a position we could strengthen to give us that lift.
With Dubravka’s ability and wages it wouldn’t really make sense keeping him as number two, and he is unlikely to want to stay on this basis. Although he wouldn’t necessarily command a huge transfer fee, there would be plenty of suitors from around Europe to pick him up.
So, who would be next? Dean Henderson seems a logical move for both clubs and the player. Solid Premier League experience, he wants to play, and Man Utd have an unhappy player who they could get a decent price for. We have also seen links to the likes of Marc-André ter Stegen and Keylor Navas, but this seems like fanciful gossip column fluff.
Cue Newcastle being linked with several more goalkeepers in the coming months, whether they plan to move for any or not. Some may say Dubravka deserves more time but, like every other aspect of this football club, the goalkeeper unit will be reviewed and overhauled at some point under the new regime. Due to the mad roulette that is the January transfer window along with much more pressing positions requiring priority, don’t expect much movement in the short term, but this is definitely something to keep an eye on come the summer.