Magpies must resolve goalkeeping dilemma

27 April 2011 12:04
AS he begins to turn his attention to the summer, Alan Pardew will not struggle to identify areas of his Newcastle United squad that boast room for improvement.

Attack, midfield, left-back in the anticipated absence of Jose Enrique - all are positions that justify a portion of the £35m fighting fund that has been assembled following the January departure of Andy Carroll. As a result, all are likely to exercise the Magpies manager's thoughts in the close season.

There is one area of the field, however, that promises to cause Pardew headaches for a very different reason.

When it comes to the position of goalkeeper, Newcastle boast an embarrassment of riches that must be the envy of most other clubs in the Premier League.

Steve Harper Experienced veteran with more than a decade of top-flight service under his belt. Tim Krul Promising 23-year-old who has now made 30 senior appearances for the Magpies. Fraser Forster Highly-rated 23-year-old who has caught the eye during his 38 appearances on loan for Celtic this season.

At most clubs, two goalkeepers into one won't go. At Newcastle, trying to keep all three happy could be the toughest task facing Pardew ahead of the start of next season.

Harper's position is the simplest, although it can no longer be taken as a given that it will automatically be as the club's number one.

The 36-year-old, who has missed Newcastle's last two matches with a knee injury, is contracted until the end of next season, and will surely see out his present deal.

He remains reliable, not necessarily as agile as he once was, but solid enough to justify a place in most top-flight teams. He is also a pivotal figure in a Newcastle dressing room that evolved into a tightly-knit unit during its season in the Championship.

While he may not feature in the remaining four matches of the campaign, he is certain to fill one of the Magpies' two goalkeeping slots for the opening match of next season, fitness permitting.

The identity of the goalkeeper in the squad with him, though, is much harder to call.

Pardew is reluctant to sell any of his goalkeepers, no doubt sensing that Krul and Forster would be a decent one-two in any order once Harper retires.

As a result, the Newcastle boss has already floated the idea of keeping one of his younger keepers on Tyneside next season, while sending the other out on loan.

Which is which, though, is still to be determined. And it also remains to be seen whether either is satisfied with their fate.

For Krul, time would appear to be of the essence. The Dutchman made his Newcastle debut as long ago as 2006, in a UEFA Cup tie against Palermo, and could justifiably claim that 17 Premier League starts in the subsequent four-and-a-half years is a poor return.

Having grown too old for the Dutch Under-21 squad, he has failed to graduate to senior international honours, with Holland boss Bert van Marwijk having criticised his lack of regular football.

Pardew accepts that Krul has been under-used in recent years and, with that in mind, a year on loan at a Championship club might be just what the shot-stopper needs.

He made 14 starts before the turn of the year, only to be dropped after a poor display at Manchester City on Boxing Day, but having stepped out of the shadows in the last two matches against Manchester United and Blackpool, would the former trainee interpret a loan move as a snub

"I'm here to be number one," he said recently. "I've been here now for six years working hard. Harps has been really important because he's told me how difficult it is to be patient. He said, 'I'm 36, your chance will come'

"At the moment, I'm not looking at the summer. I'm looking at the near future and nights like Manchester United are really important because they show I'm there."

Forster has enjoyed similarly high-profile occasions this season, appearing in six Old Firm games while on loan at Celtic.

The Hexham-born shot-stopper has been earning rave reviews north of the border, and Celtic boss Neil Lennon will make an attempt to sign him permanently this summer.

Pardew is expected to resist the temptation to cash in, and St James' Park sources suggest the Newcastle boss is considering promoting Forster above Krul.

The Celtic loanee possesses both the temperament and talent to succeed at the highest level, and there is a fear that failing to recognise as much now could result in Newcastle losing Forster before he has reached his peak.

"I will worry about Newcastle when I get back there at the end of the season," said Forster, when quizzed about his future this month. "That has to be my approach. I'm at Celtic until the end of the season, and what happens after that will be up to the managers.

"I suppose Newcastle are a bit special in that we've got so many great keepers on the books. But that competition is brilliant because it brings out the best in us."

That is as maybe, but a competition involving three goalkeepers means that two will generally lose out.

If Pardew operates wisely, the loan system might lessen the damage and enable him to keep all of the trio happy, as has happened this season.

The fear, however, is that Krul and Forster have both progressed beyond the stage where they are happy to play second fiddle at Newcastle or be temporarily shuffled elsewhere.

Source: Northern_Echo