The goalkeeping situation remains firmly on the agenda at Newcastle United in the first week of the January transfer window, but Karl Darlow boosted his bid for a Premier League future in the win at Stoke City on Monday.
Darlow, a stalwart in the Championship last term, had squandered his first opportunity this season in mid-December, with errors against Leicester City and Everton contributing to potentially costly defeats.
And so the former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper was roundly written off and conversations on Tyneside again turned to the failure to recruit a new number one in the summer – Willy Caballero, Pepe Reina, Adrian, anyone – as Rob Elliot reclaimed his place between the sticks.
There was a sense of trepidation, therefore, when injury to Elliot – himself finally finding his feet in the top flight – thrust Darlow back into the thick of an intense festive schedule.
Darlow’s display in Saturday’s stalemate at home to Brighton and Hove Albion was confident yet comfortable, but he was made to work for his clean sheet at Stoke.
While the 27-year-old had already pulled off a series of handy saves as Newcastle dominated for 75 minutes, the Potters pressure that inevitably followed Ayoze Perez’s goal brought the best out of the under-fire visiting keeper.
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Twice Darlow made outstanding close-range stops from Mame Biram Diouf and yet the Newcastle man’s dominant all-round display was equally impressive.
This was the Darlow of last season, commanding his area and, with the aid of Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark, dealing with a late aerial barrage; Stoke, with Peter Crouch up front, provided the perfect opposition for the keeper to remind Magpies fans of his talents.
And so, for now at least, the starting berth is surely Darlow’s.
Rafa Benitez’s limited January budget will ensure some players are given third or fourth chances as funds are allocated elsewhere; Darlow’s timely return to form has given his manager something to think about.