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Jeepers Keepers

If there’s one area where Newcastle have been blessed in over the past 20 years then it’s the goalkeeper position. During my footballing lifetime, Wor Pavel Srnicek made the No. 1 jersey his own during The Keegan Years Episode I with some exceptional, if a tad eccentric displays. Ably backed up by Shaka Heslop, the notion that Newcastle couldn’t defend to save their lives was a touch OTT with two top-class performers between the sticks.

The arrival of Shay Given in 1997, possibly the best piece of business acted out by Kenny Dalglish (along with Nobby and Speed), essentially signalled the end of the Geordie Czech’s tenure. Aside from a brief battle with Steve Harper at the beginning of the millennium, the gloves always belonged to Given as he became genuinely one of the best ‘keepers in Europe and Newcastle boasted probably the best pair of goalies in the Premier League for a long time. That save against Kevin Phillips at St. James’ Park, where he stretched seemingly beyond human capability to keep out a top corner effort will live long in the memory and God knows how many points he saved us each season. Sir Bobby reckoned it was about a dozen.

After a 5-1 tonkering at the hands of Liverpool two years ago, the Irishman’s patience finally wore down to the bare bones and he jetted off to collect some gold in Manchester. Many fans saw this as jumping ship, especially as we ended up going down, but in truth he should have left a lot earlier for his own good. Why Wenger or Ferguson never seriously came in for him is astonishing given the problems they’ve encountered in goal.

Anyway, Harper, by and large, couldn’t be blamed for our relegation and had a good season in the Championship – at one point there were whispers of an England call-up, although that doesn’t mean an awful lot given the national ‘talent’ we boast in that position. Yet, not everyone is convinced and there have been a few calls for him to be dropped in favour of Krul. I have a mate who’s got a season ticket and absolutely hates him! A bit harsh perhaps, but if you look closely he doesn’t get down quick enough to low shots and doesn’t always have the best command of the box.

He’s 35 now and hasn’t had the benefit of a full career having only played around 100 league games, so he can’t be expected to play on ‘til his 40s in the mould of someone like David James, who has 573 Premier League appearances. In other words, Harper doesn’t have long left at the top level.

He was fortunate last season in that, particularly towards the end when we were hammering some teams and conceding just the odd goal, he made some very poor mistakes which would be punished more seriously in the Premiership. Even this season he hasn’t convinced entirely – Giggs’ volley which excited the Sky Sports pundits a bit too much could have been kept out with a faster reaction, and who knows what could have happened against Villa if Carew hadn’t put his penalty in the sky after Harper made a very rash, unnecessary challenge.

Harper has just been injured and looks like he could be out for a while after a nasty Jermaine Beckford challenge. Although no one wants to see a player get injured, certainly not one of our own, I wonder how many fans are secretly a little pleased at the fact Krul will finally get an opportunity. I have maintained from the beginning of the season that our very own Flying Dutchman will end the campaign as No. 1, and this is his chance to show us just how good he can be.

From the flashes we’ve seen, he looks like an exceptional talent, already obliging the duty which bestows all Geordie goalkeepers in digging us out on many an occasion. Against Palermo and West Brom (in the league last season), he looked unbeatable and is a tremendous shot-stopper with super-quick reflexes. With more time to prove himself, he can only get better surely and go on to reach international class. Juventus, along with a number of other top European sides, have been circling St. James’ for some time now and if we want to keep him then not only does he need the chance to show what he can do, but also the confidence of the manager to keep faith in him once Harper returns should the Dutchman be playing well. He clearly wants to stay here and that can only be a bonus.

Of course, he is not the only young ‘keeper on our books. Fraser Forster was voted the best in League One last season with Norwich, and has begun the season as the preferred choice for Celtic, where he will no doubt get some European experience under his belt. As a local lad, he obviously wants to make it at his hometown club and standing at 6, 7”, he is a frighteningly imposing presence. Indeed after Srnicek/Heslop and Given/Harper, Krul/Forster could form the goalkeeping pair of the future for Newcastle United for years to come.

Let the latest battle commence.

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