Newcastle United squeezed their way into the last 16 of the Carabao Cup following a nervy victory over Crystal Palace on Wednesday evening, with the Magpies overcoming an underwhelming 90-minute display to clinch progression via the dreaded penalty shootout.
Following a rather drab affair at St James’ Park, Eddie Howe’s side were left thanking the quality of first-choice stopper Nick Pope for helping to seal their place in the next round, with the Englishman having produced three spot-kick saves to deny the Eagles.
The former Burnley man was undoubtedly the shining light for the hosts as they laboured to victory, with the decision to keep the 30-year-old in the sticks ahead of deputy Karl Darlow seemingly paying off.
The ten-cap colossus’ overall performance was also no doubt impressive, notably recording a 100% pass accuracy rate from his 38 touches and completing all four of his long balls, while his 8.8 match rating, as per SofaScore, was by far the highest of any player on the day.
Such heroics have simply been no surprise for those on Tyneside such has been the 6 foot 3 titan’s impact at the club thus far, having proven something of a bargain by PIF after being snapped up from Turf Moor over the summer for a reported fee of just £10m.
While no doubt aided by a strong defensive unit, the one-time Charlton Athletic brute has already kept six clean sheets from 14 Premier League games so far this season, conceding just 11 goals in that time – the best record in the division.
That form has unsurprisingly seen the Soham-born ‘keeper enjoy a rise in value of late, with the player now reportedly worth in the region of £25m, according to Football Transfers.
Not that Howe and co will be looking to move on the “dominant” 6 foot 3 gem – as described by journalist Josh Bunting – any time soon in order to make a profit, it is simply a marker of how Pope has been “such a good investment” for the northeast side, as per Bunting.
After the frustration last term regarding the inability to settle on a first-choice pick – with the aforementioned Darlow, as well as Freddie Woodman and Martin Dubravka all enjoying a run in the side – it is no doubt now a real bonus to have an undisputed number one in Newcastle’s ranks.
If Howe’s men are to have any chance of securing a top-four berth or ending their lengthy trophy drought, then keeping the “absolute monster” – as per former manager David Flitcroft – injury-free will seemingly be a must.