The number one third choice…there’s a reason me and Rob Elliot are third-choice goalkeepers. That’s a defence, not a criticism.
Sunday night. Lucozade Powerleague Soccerdome, Division Three.
Our resident ‘keeper is sidelined with a broken thumb; his understudy peddles excuses about his caravan, an iffy ankle and the need to stay fully fit for shelf stacking purposes. Bereft of alternatives, I put on some longer sleeves and went between the sticks.
The worried looks on one or two faces are soon justified when I chuck the ball straight to an opposition forward, who can scarcely believe his luck.
We lose by a margin, and though my teammates are too polite to say it in my company, I know what’s being said when I leave: we would’ve won it with a better ‘keeper.
In that respect, I empathise with Rob Elliot.
The analogy is a bit of a stretch. I don’t get paid a five-figure sum every week on the off chance that I have to tend net, and when he does play, Rob faces opposition of a higher standard than Crystal Phallus and One Erection (both genuine team names, by the way).
But we do share common ground. There’s a reason we’re both third-choice goalkeepers. If we were any better, we’d be higher up the pecking order. That’s a defence, not a criticism.
Looking around the Premier League, do any clubs have strength in depth below the subs’ bench when it comes to the goalkeeping department?
The only sides boasting a top quality third are those which have already incurred long-term injuries to number ones – or, in the peculiar case of Manchester United, have exiled a perfectly world-class deputy.
Newcastle don’t have the luxury of a transfer window or a timely free transfer.
What we’re left with elsewhere is a collection of very raw youngsters, decent Football League stoppers and veterans at the tail end of their careers.
The pick of the bunch is arguably Crystal Palace legend Julian Speroni, with fellow oldies Kelvin Davis and Gerhard Tremmel getting honourable mentions, perhaps more for their years of honourable service than their current ability.
West Brom’s Anders Lindegaard is another notable name, if only for his ill-fated spell at Old Trafford.
And the rest? Rob Elliot is as good as any fresh-faced kid from an academy or unheralded Eastern European. I’d take him over Sunderland counterpart Maksymilian Stryjek any day of the week – and Freddie Woodman, for that matter.
Don’t get me wrong, Freddie is one for the future, even if that future lies away from St. James Park. But at 18 and with just a handful of League Two games on his CV, is this really his time?
Rob Elliot has played for his country, kept clean sheets in Europe, featured in the Premier League. His kicking leaves a little to be desired, but Elliot is a decent shot stopper, occasionally pulling off the spectacular.
Granted, his four seasons at United haven’t exactly been an unqualified success, and some of his off-the-record remarks rubbed fans up the wrong way, but he’s the safest pair of hands available.
Right now, safety is what Newcastle desperately crave.
It’s been two months since I first strapped on the gloves. In that time, Beaver Rapids have won a few and lost a couple. It’s been a steady progression in terms of competency and confidence – no camera saves, but no howlers either.
We’re all aware that I’ll not be number one next year, but I’ve not let anyone down in the interim.
If Rob Elliot can say the same come January, United couldn’t ask for anything more.
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