One v One at St. James’ Park
Convincing the Toon Army that he’s not part of a Cockney Mafia with the sole intent of destroying the club can wait, there’s important work to be done. He’s barely in the Newcastle hot-seat and wet Tyneside week, but already Alan Pardew faces a key selection dilemma. With Steve Harper returning from injury and Tim Krul impressing many with his performances in his senior team-mate’s absence, he’s got a difficult choice to make. It would be harsh on Krul to be axed after a string of good displays, but equally Harper was Hughton’s first choice when he was fit so in full health it stands to reason he should be afforded the chance to earn his place back.
It’s an important decision because right now Newcastle’s season is at a crossroads. Whilst the victory over Liverpool was a great start to the Pardew era, the weaknesses remained obvious. As Wolves are showing, playing nice football is well and good, but without the results it’s going to be a long hard slog. Newcastle are likely to need every point they can get and picking the right keeper could be the difference between a relegation scrap and an outside shot at a European place, especially to a defence as fragile as Newcastle’s.
Krul has played only a handful of Premier League games and is very much the long term option. He’s young and will make mistakes on the path to being a genuinely top class goalkeeper, but there are signs he can make it right to the top. There’s a youthful enthusiasm to his performances that is sometimes in danger of spilling over into a poor decision – being too hasty in coming off his line or being to eager to come for a cross to showcase the command of his penalty area. His handling also needs a bit of work. He sometimes doesn’t catch it cleanly at the first attempt and needs another bite at the cherry to tidy up. In the Premier League, that will get punished before too long. All in all however, there is real potential. He’s very quick and agile and the bonus is the areas of his game that need work are things that will improve with experience. He should be a Magpie for a long time to come.
But Alan Pardew needs results now and that’s where the difficult choice comes in. Steve Harper is a very good goalkeeper. He’s reliable and it’s difficult to recall significant errors on his part down through the years. He does the basics right and what’s asked of him with an unspectacular unfussiness. He was the goalkeeper beaten by Xabi Alonso from his own half at Anfield a few years ago, but rational analysis of that shows his starting position wasn’t really the issue, but rather the fact he lost his footing in the scramble to get to the exocet from Alonso. Ironically, if he kept his footing, it wouldn’t have been a scramble, it would have been a straightforward save.
Perhaps part of the reason he isn’t held in higher regard is down to his apparent contentment with being back-up to Shay Given and spending much of his career on the 1st team bench or the reserves’ team sheet. He never seemed to express displeasure at the situation or agitate for a move elsewhere where he could show his talents on a more regular basis and whilst that’s exactly the type of attitude a manager loves to have within his squad, it is ultimately a lack of ambition and a waste of the best years of his career. There were some loan moves, but it’s only at the age of 35 that he’s getting his chance in the Premier League. Maybe when he hangs up the gloves, he’ll look back at the years between 28 and 35 and think a regular starting position in the Premier League could have been enough to earn him some England caps. Newcastle do pay big club salaries, so maybe the natural human desire to feather his nest can partially explain the lack of career progression.
With both keepers at different ends of there careers, the handover could be smooth with no-one losing out to any significant degree. The goalkeeping department has the potential to be stable and reliable for several seasons to come. How often can you say that about anything involving Newcastle?