It is 20 months since Martin Dubravka made his debut for Newcastle United.
Thrown in at the deep end, Newcastle in big relegation trouble and up against Manchester United.
A clean sheet and a 1-0 win on 11 February 2018 and Newcastle never looked back after that, Rafa Benitez finding a winning team and formation thanks in large part to loan players Dubravka and Kenedy who had arrived in the mid-season window. Rafa having to rely on loan deals as Mike Ashley blocked him from buying any players.
On a personal level at least, Martin Dubravka has never looked back, now having played 57 Premier League matches in a row, establishing himself as Newcastle’s best player and one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League.
These past seasons, only two clubs outside the top four have conceded less goals than Newcastle in each of the two seasons. However, that kind of tight and disciplined form is looking a world away now, only Norwich and Watford have conceded more goals than Newcastle and these are two teams that the Magpies have picked up only one point from this season.
When asked what is the difference compared to last season, the Newcastle keeper diplomatically says ‘It is hard to say’ and states that the new manager [head coach] needs time. However, time is a rare commodity, especially in the Premier League.
Last season the fans were more than prepared to be patient because they know how good Rafa Benitez is, that he had major obstacles early in the season as Mike Ashley had forced him to make a £20m+ profit on summer 2018 transfers and the owner had made it so difficult to bring in Rondon, the striker arrived at the last minute totally unfit and the NUFC manager had to wait for him to be the focal point of his attack/team.
It is very different this time, as fans were shocked when Steve Bruce was given the job. Then with the head coach saying how good the squad is and how Mike Ashley couldn’t have done more in backing him in the transfer window, it leaves Bruce with little wriggle room to make excuses now.
The thing is as well, the performances are getting progressively worse with Leicester the icing on the cake.
The first time Martin Dubravka has ever conceded five in a game at Newcastle and asked where it went wrong, the keeper points to Steve Bruce once again changing tactics/formation: ‘We went to four defenders [against Leicester] but I have to say it didn’t work. We are used to playing with five at the back which probably fits us [better].’
The chaotic tactics and organisation have even at times led to a negative spotlight falling on the likes of Schar and Dubravka. Always a big concern when even Newcastle’s best players are being so exposed by what is going on around them.
Steve Bruce has talked of now maybe other fringe players getting a game on Sunday, as he desperately tries to get lucky with a team selection and formation/tactics that work.
One thing I can’t really agree with Martin Dubravka on, is when he says ‘We can’t play like we did against Spurs one week then at Leicester the next.’
It was actually five weeks between those two games and since that backs to the wall victory at Tottenham, Newcastle have lost three and got lucky home draws against fellow relegation strugglers Watford and Brighton. That Spurs game standing out a mile amongst the other results and displays, plus as has become clear, Tottenham have major concerns of their own this season.
Speaking of which, Newcastle play another team with major concerns, Manchester United are not a great team this season and have a number of injury/fitness problems, a great opportunity for Steve Bruce and his team that they can’t afford to pass up, especially as Man Utd have an away game in Europe tonight – giving them little preparation time for Sunday.
Martin Dubravka speaking to Sky Sports News:
“We went to four defenders [against Leicester] but I have to say it didn’t work.
“We are used to playing with five at the back which probably fits us [better].
“But I understand that the manager is trying his own style.
“We’re trying what the gaffer is expecting of us, unfortunately it didn’t work this time.
“What is the difference from last season?
“It is hard to say.
“But we need to stabilise our performances, we can’t play like we did against Spurs one week then at Leicester the next.
“We have a new manager and we need time.
“It takes time to know what he wants to do but I still think we have quality players in our squad.”
“Nobody spoke on the flight home [after the Leicester defeat], it was silent.
“We usually chat away to each other and play games but there was none of that.
“It was horrible and quiet, I sat at the back of the plane and spoke to nobody – I had no words. I just kept replaying the game in my own mind.
“It is hard to forget.
“I heard how the other boys described the performance and I agree with them all. I’m right at the back [on the pitch] and I can see everything.
“It didn’t work and wasn’t good enough. It was just embarrassing.”
“It was a crazy, really bad defeat.
“Every player felt very bad after that game, straight afterwards we were full of emotion and strong words were said in the dressing room – but it means we care.”
On happier times, Martin Dubravka asked about when he made his Newcastle debut in the 1-0 win over Manchester United back in February 2018:
“I was so focused that day, we won and it was an amazing feeling.
“That day I thought about nothing but that game – y keeper-coach said he could see it in my face that I was going to play well.
“They [Manchester United] have some problems too but we are playing them at home so we know we have a chance, we just need Sunday to come around quickly and we’ll do things better.
“The supporters deserve that.
“I felt so sorry for them [at Leicester] as they kept singing at 4-0 behind, I have never seen that before.
“I was so lucky to have good fans supporting me at my previous clubs but this is something special here.”