Rob's raring to go
Written by Tom Easterby
Having finished the last campaign between the sticks, Rob Elliot is hoping to stake his claim to be Newcastle United’s first-choice goalkeeper once more as the start of pre-season draws closer.
The Republic of Ireland international has been at the Magpies Benton training base this week, topping up his fitness as he and the rest of the United squad prepare to return to training a week on Monday (3rd July).
Elliot overcame a serious knee injury – one which kept him out of action for over eight months – to reclaim a place in Rafa Benitez’s side for the final three games of the season, which saw Newcastle wrap up the Sky Bet Championship title.
The 31-year-old has never begun a season as first-choice stopper on Tyneside, but this time around he’s looking to hold off the challenges of United’s other established goalkeepers to make the position his own – and says that returning to action at the end of last term was a big boost, both mentally and physically, for him.
“I didn’t see myself playing as Karl (Darlow) was doing so well, so to play the last three games – three important games – and do well was great,” Elliot told nufc.co.uk.
“It gives you the confidence for yourself, mentally, to know that you can get back to the levels you were at before, and also going into next season, hopefully it gives me a good chance to try and start the season.
“I’ve never started the season. I’ve been here six years but I’ve never started the season as number one or the goalie, whichever way you look at it, but hopefully I can get a good pre-season, stay fit and strong and give it my best to get the nod when the season starts.
“But with the amount of goalkeepers we’ve got and the quality of the goalkeepers, you just never know – you have to be at your best every day, and hopefully do enough to get the nod from the manager.”
Elliot has been working with United physio Sean Beech in order to make sure, he says, “that when I come back I’m in better shape than I ended last season”.
“It’s been good. I feel really confident in my knee, and I want to almost put it behind me this season, sort of forget that I had it and then carry on from there,” he explained.
“There’s a lot of competition this year, and you want to give yourself the best opportunity to be involved and to play. It’s just a case of getting as fit as you can, staying strong, and hopefully when you come back to training you can kick on and get going as quickly as possible.
“You’re looking to come back now. Tottenham at home is a fantastic opening game for us to be back in the league, and it’ll be a good challenge for us. They’re one of the best teams in the league, a brilliant team, and it’s something you look forward to as a player, the sort of game you want to play in.
“I think the atmosphere will be brilliant, and that gives you a good driving force to keep working in the gym and keep working when we get back.”
The prospect of undergoing a full pre-season again is an exciting one for Elliot, who was working on his rehabilitation this last time last year, having suffered that knee injury on international duty in March 2016.
And having enjoyed a break after lifting the Championship title in May, he’s now focussing on the challenge that lies ahead as Benitez’s men ready themselves for their top flight return.
“It’s amazing – I didn’t realise how much I’d needed a rest until probably about a week or two ago. It was only a week or two ago that I felt like I’d rested, and I started thinking about going back to training again and playing, so I think in that sense, mentally, it’s brilliant,” said Elliot.
“I think it’s when the fixtures come out that it sets in and you start looking forward to things.
“Hopefully it’s just a nice, smooth season. It’s been a bit up in the air the last few years for me, so hopefully I can just look forward to a bit of normality, get some games and enjoy being back in the Premier League.”
"There’s a lot of competition this year, and you want to give yourself the best opportunity to be involved and to play. It’s just a case of getting as fit as you can, staying strong, and hopefully when you come back to training you can kick on and get going as quickly as possible."