‘With a heavy heart it is now time to drop Karl Darlow and bring back Martin Dubravka’
The only player to come out of Monday’s defeat to Arsenal with any real credit, was goalkeeper Karl Darlow, who once again made a string of excellent saves to keep the scoreline relatively respectable.
It has been the same story all season, as Darlow has excelled in place of the previously injured, and now recovered, Martin Dubravka.
However, despite this string of notable performances from Darlow, I think the time has come to install Martin Dubravka back as number one.
I know this might not be a popular opinion with everyone and I can understand why. I’m the first to acknowledge that Darlow has had an outstanding season and he would have every right to feel very hard done by, were he to find himself back warming the bench once more.
Here though is my reasoning and we need to start by winding the clock back 20 years to January 2001.
At the turn of the century, Bobby Robson had two excellent goalkeepers on his books, in the form of Shay Given and Steve Harper. Given was generally considered the number one at this stage, though at that time had real competition for his place from Harper.
After picking up a dead leg and being replaced by Harper in a game against Derby County before Christmas, Given was left out of a Boxing Day victory over Leeds United to ensure he recovered fully from the injury. Harper impressed and kept his place in the starting line-up for the next four games.
Given responded by slapping in a transfer request and commented at the time:
“The board have told me that they will give me a decision later in the week and in the meantime I will train with enthusiasm.
“I thought that my consistency in the 20 or so early season games would have meant an early recall.
“When this did not happen and I was given no explanation, I felt I had no other way of making my feelings known.
“There are many players who would not have reacted in this way, but I am a passionate and committed player, desperate for Newcastle to do well.”
Now the word was that Given and Harper always got on well, seemingly like Darlow and Dubravka do now. There was a mutual respect for each other’s ability.
But Shay Given – quite rightly – thought he was the better goalkeeper and thought he should have been put back in the team once he was fully fit, regardless of the performance level of Harper in his absence.
I feel we are now reaching a similar conundrum with Martin Dubravka and Karl Darlow, particularly given our continued decline in form.
If both players had been fully fit at the start of the season, Karl Darlow wouldn’t have had a look in and this debate would never have happened. Darlow perhaps wouldn’t have even been at the club for much longer.
However, like Given, I believe a manager should choose his best keeper and stick to it. Based on previous selection, Bruce clearly thought Dubravka was the better goalie, as Benitez had before him. Huge credit must go to Darlow for giving him such a selection headache.
So why would I choose to remove the player who, alongside Callum Wilson, has been our best player this season.
It’s through no fault of Darlow’s but more to do with the quality of Dubravka. I was reminded during our FA Cup defeat just what a reassuring presence the Slovakian is between the sticks. He seems calm, never flustered and goes about his business with the minimum of fuss.
This is in contrast to Darlow, who makes excellent saves, but there does seem to be an element of chaos around his performances, admittedly not helped by the poor standard of defenders around him.
However, the main reason I would bring Martin Dubravka back in, is the main reason Benitez brought him to the club in the first place…and that is the quality of his distribution, which is vastly superior to Darlow’s.
This was highlighted in Monday night’s game against Arsenal, with a couple of really poor clearances from Darlow landing in our own half and inviting pressure, while there was one comedy moment when he completely miskicked the ball out for a corner.
If Steve Bruce is committed to sticking with two strikers and playing higher up the pitch, then we need someone with better distribution at the back to try and help our cause.
Now I’ll finish this article by saying that we have much bigger issues to resolve than our goalkeeper.
Darlow has not been the problem this season and on many occasions has been our saviour. However, when you are struggling like we are, I think you need your best players playing, even if that upsets someone else who might have been in good form.
That is why I think it is time for Bruce to make the tough call, with a heavy heart it is time to drop Karl Darlow and bring back Martin Dubravka.
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