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Rafa encouraged by goalkeeping competition

Written by Rory Mitchinson

Rafa Benitez admits competition is hotting up for Newcastle United’s goalkeeping jersey following Rob Elliot’s return to action for Peter Beardsley’s second-string.

Having been forced to sit out the vast majority of the calendar year after suffering a horrific knee injury with the Republic of Ireland in March, Elliot clocked up 90 minutes as United’s Under-23s recorded a 4-2 win over Aston Villa at St. James’ Park last night.

Thus far this term, Karl Darlow and Matz Sels have shared responsibilities between the sticks, though the former has established himself as Benitez’s first-choice in recent weeks.

And now, with 30-year-old Elliot’s long road back to fitness almost at an end, the Spaniard is looking forward to having three different stoppers pushing each other hard.

“Obviously, every time a player has been injured for a long time and is coming back, it is good news for us. (Rob) conceded two goals but he was not (at fault), and he made a very good save. I was really pleased for him, and it can increase the competition, which is good,” he said.

“I was talking to Simon (Smith) – the goalkeeping coach – and it will be a problem for us to have three ‘keepers as all of them cannot start. But, I prefer to have these three options just in case. (Rob) will be pushing, but Darlow is doing well, and Matz is training really well, so hopefully we will keep this competition for a long time.

“(Rob) played yesterday, and we will try to find more games for him, and after that we will decide. You cannot say now, ‘Oh, he is fine, he will come back and be number one.’ They have to compete. That is the way it is in professional football.”

United travel to Wigan Athletic tomorrow looking to build on Saturday’s thumping victory over Birmingham City, which ended a three-game winless run in all competitions.

The Latics currently sit second-bottom of the Sky Bet Championship, and have registered just four wins in the division all season.

Should Brighton & Hove Albion slip up at Blackburn Rovers tonight, a three-point haul at the DW Stadium will ensure the Magpies top the standings on Christmas Day.

Benitez is unperturbed by the shape of the table at present, however, and has called on his charges to focus on their own game.

“If we are top of the table in May, fine. Now, we do not win any titles (being there),” he said. "I try not to talk too much about the position in the table – or our rivals. My main concern is to keep the team focused and concentrated on every game. Do not make mistakes, and we will have chances. Score goals, and we will win games.

“For us, we try to win at home and away. Obviously, Wigan need to win. They are at the bottom of the table and they need to get three points – not just a draw. I think they have to attack, and hopefully we can find some spaces.”

"I prefer to have these three options just in case. (Rob) will be pushing, but Darlow is doing well, and Matz is training really well, so hopefully we will keep this competition for a long time."

Rafa Benitez

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