Harker saves three penalties in shoot-out success
Written by Luke Vinton
Under-23s goalkeeper Nathan Harker labelled Newcastle's dramatic play-off semi-final victory over Reading as 'one of the best games of the season' after winning 3-2 on penalties.
United's Cal Roberts cancelled out Teddy Howe's header for the Royals in normal time of the Division Two clash before Jordan Holsgrove's long-range strike in the latter stages of extra-time regained Reading's advantage.
However, Kelland Watts' stoppage-time penalty sent the game into a penalty shoot-out resulting in Harker producing three tremendous stops to guide United into the play-off final, where they will face an away clash against Southampton in their bid to reach Premier League 2's top tier.
“I'm a bit overwhelmed,” Harker told nufc.co.uk. “It was an unbelievable game and we've learnt this season that we can't do everything the pretty way. We've definitely showed the heart that we've got amongst the team. The equaliser (in extra-time) was basically the last kick of the game so for everyone to stick together and work through it was fantastic.
“That's got to be up there with one of the best games of the season at any level. It would have been a great match for the neutral supporter and it's rare that you can be involved in a game so tight so fair play to both teams because it was a gruelling battle.
"It's a dramatic way to go through and hard to swallow if you're on the losing side but I think if you asked most goalkeepers, a shoot-out is their chance to become the hero so saving three penalties and helping my team progress into the final is an unbeatable feeling."
Harker has been a prominent figure for Newcastle's second-string this term, with the 20-year-old goalkeeper also saving a last minute penalty against Reading in a 2-0 league victory back in February.
With two finals awaiting Newcastle's second-string next week, including a first Premier League Cup final for the Magpies, Harker believes the manner of the victory against the Royals can be used as a positive ahead of an intriguing finale to United's impressive campaign.
"We looked at the couple of penalties they had taken this season, one of which I'd saved against them in the league earlier this season. Unfortunately, none of the penalty takers in the video were on the pitch so it was down to pure instinct. I always back myself when it comes to penalties because I know the taker is expected to score so all the pressure is on my opponent.
“The shoot-out win can help us massively ahead of the next two games. We've been on a good run in the second half of the season and strung some good wins together. We know we have the Premier League Cup final next week, so to have the play-off final in there aswell makes it an even bigger week for everyone at the club.
“It's a big week ahead of us and it's been a long, hard season full of ups and downs. We've stuck together as a team and there's a real togetherness in there so I think we don't want to end the season not achieving anything or having anything to show for our efforts. It would be a massive plus for us to win either game.”