Why does this always happen to Newcastle Utd? The classic argument which Goalkeeper is better and who should play? Given or Harper? Harper or Krul? And now Darlow or Dubravka? 

There is no doubting Darlow and his credentials after his performances this season, currently the third most saves in the Premier League with 64 behind Sam Johnstone (74) and Illan Meslier (67). What has been good to see this season is his maturing during the season, I’m sure like most of you, when the lineups got announced at the start of the season against West Ham there was some dread when Darlow’s name was read on the team sheet. However I think we can all say that he has exceeded expectations with numerous man of the match performances and crucial save in games. 

The argument for Darlow staying in the side is strong and a valid one, he has performed admirably this season and there has been talk of an England call up such is the gravitas of his performances. His man of the match peformance Liverpool especially was something that had the pundits mouths drooling, one thing that could be said is that the display he produced may have had something to do with Dubravka nearing full training and back in the match day squad and he has set the bar high. 

Now, I’m going to take you back three years, to  11th February 2018. A relatively unknown goalkeeper by the name of Martin Dubravka was handed his debut by then manager Rafa Benitez signed from Sparta Prague under the radar against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. What was to follow was an unbelievable zero to hero story. After that game it was easy to see why Benitez signed him after making a string of amazing saves, showing his commanding presence in the box and earning him the man of the match. 

Dubravka went on to win the North East football writers association player of the year 2018 after a whirlwind half season, heralded as being the best goalkeeper to play for us since Shay Given, this somewhat has given him some leeway to go back in to the side, I’ll give you an example, Paulo Gazziniga had a tremendous season in 2019/20 for Spurs performing at a very high level whilst Lloris was out. However was he allowed to continue in the side when Lloris returned from injury? The answer unfortunately is no. When it comes to goalkeepers it isn’t like any other position on the pitch, it can’t necessarily be negated by stats. It is different and I think any manager would agree with that (unfortunately I was a victim of this in my shortened life as a goalkeeper in the Northumberland junior leagues circa 2003). 

Dubravka is a commanding presence in the box, his ability to come for crosses, his work in organising the defence and providing good distribution with his feet can’t be forgotten, along with his ability to save the ball from going in to the back of the net can’t go unnoticed. Whilst Darlow has the ability to pull of a string of world class saves, it’s the things that go under the radar that we need to take in to consideration. I think we can all admit that our defence doesn’t look as assured as it was last season and a commanding voice booming from the mouth of the goal is just the kick up the arse the defence needs at the moment given we spend the majority of the game camped on our 18 yard line these days (but that’s a completely different story for another day)

Although Dubravka has made the odd mistake in the past (5 errors leading to goals last season which was the leagues highest compared to Darlow’s 1 this season) he would admit himself 19/20 wasn’t his best season in black and white, even still that was still enough to win Newcastle’s United’s player of the season with a league high 137 saves and amassed 11 clean sheets on his way (compared to Darlow’s 3 clean sheets so far this season). It just goes to show how well he performed given he was up against Allan Saint Maximin in the running for NUFC’s player of the season and we all know how well he performed in his debut season.

Does Darlow deserve to be dropped? Absolutely not, would he get in the majority of premier league sides on current form? Yes. But most sides aren’t blessed with a world class goalkeeper coming back from injury and unfortunately football is a cut throat business. 

RICHARD WATSON