With the first Tyne-Wear derby of the season creeping into sight, Newcastle United have predictably spent the international break stumbling across their traditional injury crisis. As in two of the past three campaigns, the identity of the Magpies’ goalkeeper is the talk of the town.
Since Dutch international Tim Krul secured the role on a permanent basis in 2011, he has lacked a serious contender. Fraser Forster battled with Krul for a single pre-season, departing beaten, before the ageing Steve Harper and recruit Rob Elliot shared reserve duties. Karl Darlow was signed last summer, but loan and injury have restricted him to a sole appearance, while Jak Alnwick and Freddie Woodman have also been involved.
In the first of Sunderland’s famous five consecutive victories against their great rivals, Newcastle goalkeeper Krul exited due to injury with the scoreline at 1-0. The Black Cats smashed another two past Elliot.
Then, last year, the ailments of the aforementioned pair cast Alnwick into the spotlight. He endured a torrid period in the first team, capped as he picked a late Adam Johnson winner from the Gallowgate net the weekend before Christmas.
Now, Krul will be missing again. Darlow, too, remains out, leaving Elliot and Woodman as Steve McClaren’s two serious candidates.
Capped by the Republic of Ireland, the former of the duo offers the more experience. In his limited showings on Tyneside, though, he has failed to impress, with horror performances in brutal defeats to Cardiff City and Manchester United in 2014. Woodman, on the other hand, has excelled on each and every rung of the ladder at the club’s academy – and with England – before shining on loan at Crawley Town in the early part of this term.
He is yet to make his competitive bow with United, but is seen by many as a future number one. Such has been the impact made upon followers of Newcastle’s youth teams that the decampment of goalkeeping coach and father Andy Woodman in the summer was met by enquiries as to the youngster’s own position. However, with the Croydon-born goalkeeper out of contract at the end of the season, this could provide a crucial test. Alnwick failed in a similar situation, but Woodman’s potential is obvious.
With a home fixture against Norwich City between now and the derby, McClaren has the opportunity to give his chosen stopper a trial run. Realistically, Elliot will never be the former England boss’s main man, whereas Woodman might be. Surely this weekend, and the subsequent crunch Tyne-Wear clash, presents convenient openings for the 18-year-old to stake his claim.