Steve Bruce must ruthlessly axe Karl Darlow and return Martin Dubravka to the Newcastle United goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
And, according to The Telegraph, that’s exactly what the under-pressure Toon boss intends to do at St. James’ Park on Saturday.
Dubravka is yet to open a single Premier League fixture this season after sustaining a heel injury in training ahead of the start to the 2020/21 campaign, with Darlow going on to establish himself as the new number one on Tyneside.
Darlow performed magnificently most weeks during the first half of the term, with his saves often proving crucial to Newcastle staying in fixtures and keeping, some, distance between the Magpies and the relegation zone.
Particularly against defending champions Liverpool in December, Darlow stood firm to warrant a rare 10 out of 10 match rating from Chronicle Live, having produced 11 saves to deny Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane – the former being the Premier League’s top-scorer with 17 goals to date.
But Darlow’s efforts have dropped off somewhat in recent weeks, and he endured a particularly troublesome night at Old Trafford last Sunday when Manchester United beat Newcastle 3-1.
The 30-year-old will know he should have done better when beaten by Marcus Rashford for the Red Devils’ opener, with the England international driving home low at the near post. Dan James later snuck the ball past Darlow to restore his side’s lead, with the shot-stopper unable to make himself big enough to prevent Newcastle conceding for a 42nd time this term.
Those moments left Bruce to tell the assembled media after the game: “We’ll have a look at the goalkeeper, he will be disappointed to be beaten at the near post for the first goal. It’s been a difficult week, but we have games coming up where we think we can take points.”
That run starts with Wolves on Saturday, in which a defeat combined with a Fulham win on Sunday at Crystal Palace could leave Newcastle in the drop zone, with three points all that separates United from the Cottagers who hold a superior goal difference.
Dropping Darlow after one particular errant performance may seem harsh, but the move to recall the Magpies’ 2019/20 Player of the Year Dubravka is a needed one if Bruce wishes to keep his job, for a little longer at least.
Owner Mike Ashley is expected to be hands-off all the while Newcastle remain outside of the bottom three, though that may only be a matter of days away with Bruce winless in 14 of the Toon’s last 16 Premier League games.
Installing Dubravka between the sticks now, ahead of hosting the Molineux natives and subsequent top-flight clashes with relegation-rivals West Bromwich Albion plus Brighton and Hove Albion, may thus be a needed measure to bring a sense of calm to St. James’.
“When Dubravka was injured and Darlow was in fantastic form he was knocking on the door for an England call-up and without him, they could be in the position where Sheffield United or West Brom are,” Lee Ryder said on the EIBW Podcast (Chronicle Live, 23/2, 11:37)
“Dubravka is a different type of goalkeeper to Darlow – he organises his defence a little differently, he’s calmer and that is what Newcastle may need in the next 13 games.”
Darlow may feel hard done by to be replaced by Dubravka after everything he’s done for Newcastle this season, but a relegation battle is no time for Bruce to show sentimentality.
AND in other news, Newcastle are exploring a deal to sign a £31.5m-rated star for free this summer…