Thursday 29 September 2016

Elliot on top of his game as Magpies plummet

Soccer's fickle finger of fate elevates Newcastle 'keeper from depths of despair with kudos for his performances

Published 24/03/2016 | 02:30

Rob Elliot. Photo: Sportsfile
Rob Elliot. Photo: Sportsfile

In the immortal words of soccer legend Jimmy Greaves, spoken to his buddy Ian St John on TV almost 50 years ago: "It's a funny old game, Saint."

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Newcastle United goalkeeper Rob Elliot goes even further, calling it "a "crazy game" based on his own experience.

At the start of the 2015-'16 season, Elliot looked to have no future with the Magpies, and his chances of a move to a top Championship club, let alone another Premier League outfit, appeared non-existent.

A torn thigh muscle suffered against Chelsea in December 2014, followed by a few setbacks in recovery, had kept him out of action for months, so he had no chance to impress prospective purchasers.

Tim Krul was the number one 'keeper, and the then manager Steve McLaren, also had Karl Darlow, a 2014 signing from Nottingham Forest, on the books.

Elliot admits he felt very low and demoralised. It appeared as if the time had come to quit the club he joined in 2011 from Charlton. That would have meant dropping a division or two, and turning his back on the Premier League.

Goalkeeping coach Simon Smith, however, urged patience.

Elliot not-so-politely, told him what he thought of that bit of advice, but stuck around.

Said Elliot: "He was like, 'Just keep working and keep doing well, because there I think there's an opportunity for you here'.

"I remember having that conversation with him and I don't think the response I gave was as positive as what he said.

"It was funny how it worked out and since then we've had a good relationship."

Fate decreed that last October the game got 'funny' in the way Greavesie would have meant it, as in 'funny peculiar'.

Krul suffered a bad knee injury, Elliot got the call to duty, Norwich were thrashed 6-2, and, despite Newcastle teetering dangerously on the brink of relegation, the goalie has been in top form ever since, receiving high marks each week for his performances.

The 156th Tyne-Wear derby last Sunday exemplified the weirdness of the 'keeper of the team that is second from bottom of the table getting eight out of 10 for yet another fine display.

Experience

Elliot deserved the kudos, particularly for a stunning save from a seemingly certain goal as Sunderland's Patrick van Aanholt blasted the ball towards the top corner of the net from inside the Newcastle penalty area.

"The experience I've taken out of it is you have to keep working hard, and keep your head right, because you just never know what is going to happen in football. It's such a crazy game," he said

This week the England-born goalie who qualifies for the Republic via his father, a native of Cork, is in Dublin with the Republic of Ireland squad.

Elliot has so far earned three senior caps, all in 2014, v Turkey, Oman, and the USA.

He hopes to press his claims for inclusion in Martin O'Neill's Euro 2016 squad while also keeping positive about Newcastle's chances of avoiding the drop to the Championship.

The pressure is on new boss Rafa Benitez and his players from the fanatical Tyneside supporters and the media.

Elliot, 29, accepts the challenges are huge but on a personal basis, the hype is not inhibiting his performances.

"I'm probably fine with it a little bit, because of where I was, and how low I was, pressure has become irrelevant to me.

"On a personal level, it's been quite bittersweet, because although this season has been a massive change in my career, becoming a regular Premier League player and doing well for the club, it's obviously been harsh, because we're not getting the results that we need or deserve sometimes.

"The most important thing for me is to make sure I help the team as much as I can to stay in the Premier League because the quality is there.

"We just have to get tougher mentally, and we need to make sure that when we go on the pitch that we give everything we can."

At international level, Elliot would love to claim the number one jersey for the Republic in France.

It's a tall order, which Elliot readily accepts.

"Whenever any 'keeper has played since I've been here, they've been excellent," he said.

"The manager has a fantastic group of 'keepers to pick from.

"I think that's one great thing for us, that we're in such a strong position about who he picks, and it's up to us to make sure that it's a really tough choice for him."

Irish Independent

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