Like many other Newcastle United fans, I think Martin Dubravka should have replaced Karl Darlow some time ago.
The Slovakian goalkeeper returned to full fitness and availability for first team football in December 2020.
However, Steve Bruce has steadfastly refused to play Martin Dubravka and insisted on sticking with Karl Darlow.
Karl Darlow has done well overall this season but for many Newcastle fans his level of performance has dropped off significantly the longer he has stayed in the team.
Not disastrous obvious clangers match after match but conceding a sizeable number of goals that many fans feel Dubravka would have saved. Plus a general belief for fans that the Slovakian is a better organiser and inspires the defence with more confidence.
Then you have the very basic obvious statistics. This season, only West Brom have conceded more goals (55) than Karl Darlow (43) and Newcastle United. We are on a run of only two wins in sixteen games and 30 goals conceded in these last 16 matches. Plus, in seven of his last eight NUFC Premier League matches, Karl Darlow has conceded two or more goals.
On Friday, I sent an article to The Mag detailing why Martin Dubravka replacing Karl Darlow was long overdue, in this serious relegation battle.
This followed Steve Bruce saying this at his pre-Man Utd press conference on Friday 19 February 2021 to BBC Newcastle:
“Well he [Martin Dubravka] has been very, very professional about it and understands.
“That doesn’t mean to say he’s happy, which I wouldn’t expect him to be.
“I have got a situation, we’ve got another very very good young goalkeeper down at Swansea, who is doing very well too.
“So, in that area of the pitch, we are extremely…we are extremely good.
“Of course, with a goalkeeper you can only pick one of them.
“You know, at the minute I have stayed with Karl [Darlow] because I think he deserves to be (playing).
“All season we have said how well he has done and the one thing I need to have, is to create that competition.
“Karl has got the nod at the moment but as we have seen in football, things can change very quickly.”
Well, Steve Bruce would never have guessed just how ‘very quickly’ that might be.
Two days after losing 3-1 at Man Utd and only four days after saying the above, Steve Bruce has now decided to replace Karl Darlow with Martin Dubravka.
Luke Edwards is a close friend of Steve Bruce and the Telegraph journalist has put out an exclusive, saying that he has been informed that the goalkeeping change WILL be made on Saturday when Newcastle take on Wolves at St James Park.
Many Newcastle fans will say better late than never BUT Steve Bruce has waited until Karl Darlow made such a significant and obvious blunder with that first goal at Old Trafford, he can no longer portray this as a positive change. Bruce could have said before the weekend that Karl Darlow has been exceptional but he feels Martin Dubravka is even better, however, it will now simply be seen as a punishment for Darlow having let that goal in.
So if indeed Edwards is correct with his exclusive, what if Martin Dubravka comes in and gets injured or just plays really badly, how will Karl Darlow then feel if he is then recalled after only a few matches?
Such weak management with Steve Bruce saying on Friday that Karl Darlow ‘deserves’ to have stayed in the side, when surely it should be only about picking your strongest team when fighting relegation.
For many Newcastle fans they feel it has been inexplicable that Steve Bruce can’t see Dubraka should be playing his number one goalkeeper, the one who stands the most chance of keeping the ball out of the back of the net and help NUFC pick up the necessary points to at least avoid relegation.
When making any decision you would base it on a mixture of stats / facts and opinion, based on what you see (and have seen in the past).
Karl Darlow continues to make a lot of saves BUT is also conceding a lot of goals, only the one Premier League club having conceded more than the 43 Darlow and NUFC have leaked in 25 matches.
In the first 11 PL games this season, 16 were conceded in 11 games at an average of 1.45 goals per match.
In the next (last) 14 PL games this season, 26 conceded in 14 matches, at an average of 1.86 goals per game.
It often happens when you put a squad player in, they raise their game when getting the opportunity and play to near their maximum. However, the longer you leave them in the side, it is all but inevitable that as the adrenaline fades, their form will return to a level that tells you why they are squad players and not first choice.
With goalkeepers it is perhaps the most difficult to judge, many of the goals conceded by Karl Darlow you tend to think he had little chance of saving them…BUT with a better goalkeeper might they have saved some of them, especially if having more ability when it comes to positioning as well as basic shot stopping.
Just because you are battling against relegation towards the bottom, it doesn’t always automatically follow that your goalkeeper will be letting in a lot of goals, as Martin Dubravka proved…
Amongst the numerous problems with Steve Bruce’s woeful and weak management, is that he has bottled such obvious decisions.
A pat on the back for Karl Darlow for sure but Martin Dubravka ‘deserves’ to be back in goal because he is a better goalkeeper, the fans deserve him to be back in as well.
It is difficult not to compare the current situation with that of February 2018, when Martin Dubravka first got into the Newcastle United first team.
Rafa Benitez making what at the time looked a reckless decision to throw Martin Dubravka pretty much straight in after he arrived on loan.
Dubravka had only played in small weak leagues and at the time had been playing that season in the Czech Republic.
Newcastle fans a bit shocked as the current incumbent hadn’t been doing too badly and no massive blunders. Indeed, the previous six Premier League matches had seen a 3-1 defeat at Man City but only three goals conceded in the other five.
That goalkeeper was Karl Darlow.
In a relegation battle and playing Man Utd, throwing in Martin Dubravka for ‘no good obvious reason’ looked madness.
One brilliant man of the match debut win and clean sheet later, Dubravka had shown why, the bravery of Rafa Benitez rewarded because he knew he was making the right move, no matter how reckless it had seemed to outsiders.
Rafa Benitez felt he needed a better goalkeeper if Newcastle United were to have the best chance of staying up and finishing as high as possible.
Here are two Premier League tables from the 2017/18 season, the first is all the stats from the opening 26 matches when either Karl Darlow or Rob Elliot were in goal, the second is for the final 12 matches when Martin Dubvraka was put in the team.
2017/18 Premier League season first 26 matches:
2017/18 Premier League season final 12 games:
Over the course of the opening 26 PL matches, Newcastle United with the fifth worst form and conceding an average of 1.38 goals per game.
Then in the final 12 PL games, Newcastle with the sixth best form and only conceding an average of 0.92 goals per game with Martin Dubravka.
You couldn’t put all the improvement down to Dubravka BUT it was obvious to anybody that he was a better goalkeeper than Rob Elliot or Karl Darlow and that he had helped make a difference in terms of getting better results.
He helped raise Newcastle United up to having the seventh best defensive record in terms of goals conceded in 2017/18.
Then just to prove that was no fluke, when playing every game of the 2018/19 Premier League season, Martin Dubravka was seventh best in terms of number of goals conceded, despite battling relegation and eventually ending up thirteenth in the league.
An excellent run of 88 consecutive Premier League starts from Martin Dubravka giving Newcastle United such a solid base in the Premier League, even last season when Steve Bruce’s chaotic management style came in, with some clueless tactics and team set ups, despite Mike Ashley allowing him a £65m+ net spend in summer 2019. Dubravka left so exposed due to Bruce’s tactics, a great effort still by the Slovakian to have the fourteenth best defensive record in terms of goals conceded.
Top work by Rafa Benitez, bringing in such a quality goalkeeper for only £4m, in an era where you see such fantastic sums paid for not such fantastic keepers (Chelsea paying £72m for Kepa, only five weeks after Martin Dubravka made his move permanent to NUFC for £68m less).
Martin Dubravka last started a Premier League game on 26 July 2020, the 3-1 home defeat to Liverpool, final match of that very long season.
Martin Dubravka Premier League record:
His average goals per game conceded for Newcastle being:
2017/18: 0.91 goals per game (11 in 12)
2018/19: 1.26 goals per game (48 in 38)
2019/20: 1.53 goals per game (58 in 38)
An overall NUFC record of 117 conceded in 88 PL matches, an average of 1.33 goals per game.
Karl Darlow Premier League record:
2015/16: 1.22 goals per game (11 in 9)
2017/18: 1.50 goals per game (15 in 10)
2020/21: 1.72 goals per game (43 in 25)
An overall NUFC Premier League record of 69 conceded in 44 PL matches, an average of 1.57 goals per game.
Karl Darlow is a very decent keeper and a very good number two, seems a good bloke as well, BUT he is not as good as Martin Dubravka.
The top managers make these tough and ruthless, but essential, big decisions.
Steve Bruce has been like a rabbit caught in the headlights, failure to make these big calls can prove fatal, hopefully Martin Dubravka is indeed going to start on Saturday night and Bruce belatedly getting a decision right.