SORRY I ROB-BED GLORY!
NEWCASTLE keeper Rob Elliot has insisted there are no hard feelings between him and Karl Darlow – despite swiping his rival’s moment of glory.
Elliot, 31, ruptured his knee ligaments on international duty with the Republic of Ireland last March, missing both Euro 2016 and the majority of this season.
Darlow duly capitalised on his absence, displacing summer signing Matz Sels as Newcastle’s No.1 and playing 34 consecutive games to propel the Magpies to the Championship summit.
But the 26-year-old was surprisingly dropped for the promotion-clinching clash with Preston last month, meaning Elliot – on his first start for over a year – was on the pitch to take the acclaim.
Now Elliot could again be the man in the limelight, with Newcastle needing a better result than Brighton to win a second Championship title in seven years.
“Karl’s a top bloke and he’s been great about it,” said Elliot, who has been given the nod to start in today’s finale at home to out-of-form Barnsley.
“He’s a really good mate. We’re always playing golf and messing around. When I was injured and coming back, it was brilliant to have him around – just to lift you sometimes when you are down.
“It’s not easy, especially when you are coming back and you are having to wait and not play. It’s been brilliant to see him do so well this season.
“He’s been the best keeper in the league this year by a mile. He has worked so hard. Last season, when I was playing and he was on the bench, he backed me all the way.
“It’s been the same this year. It’s great that I’ve got the opportunity to do the same thing – that I could be there and support him and help him through the games like he did for me. It’s good that we have that relationship. At the end of the day, it’s the manager that makes the decision, it’s nothing to do with us. We’re competing for the same shirt but it doesn’t mean we can’t be mates.”
Elliot and Darlow isn’t the only stable relationship on Tyneside this season. Rafa Benitez has worked hard to rebuild the connection between fans and players that was severed by the lacklustre performances that ultimately led to relegation from the top flight.
The Spaniard has made it his priority to sign players – like Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle – for whom playing at Newcastle is a privilege, not a stepping stone. Title or not, the Magpies are returning to the Premier League a healthier and more harmonious unit.
“The atmosphere this year has been so much better,” added Elliot, who joined Newcastle from Charlton in 2011. “Selling out the away end every match has just been amazing.
“Hopefully it will just keep growing and the connection between the fans, the players and the manager will keep taking us forward.
“Going into next year we will have some tough games at home, so hopefully we can get that edge back with the atmosphere at the ground and that can help us get over the line a few times. When we are doing well, there is no better place to be.
“I think you’d be naïve to stay you are not looking just to stay up. You’ve got to look at that first before you even think about where you want to finish. Get to 40 points as quick as you possibly can and then see where you finish. Hopefully it will just be a good season all round for the club. We need to get some stability back, make sure we are in the Premier League again and go from there.”
With best buds Elliot and Darlow again vying for the No.1 spot? “Hopefully,” he added, “but you can’t really look into it too much because you don’t know what the manager has planned.
“You could see Pepe Reina walk through the door and then it’s like, ‘Ah, OK, what’s going on here?’ You can never take anything for granted at this club.”
TOON DAR-LING: Newcastle’s Karl Darlow saves from Sheffield Wednesday’s Fernando Forestieri and, inset, Rob Elliot