"If there’s a better goalkeeper at the moment, I’m yet to see it." Karl Darlow's performances this season could not have drawn any higher praise from Newcastle boss Steve Bruce, but after a breakthrough Premier League season, the 30-year-old is not ready to rest on his laurels just yet
"It's brilliant," Darlow told Sky Sports ahead of Newcastle's trip to Aston Villa on Saturday Night Football. "I'm pleased to be back playing and doing a job that I'm here to do.
"The words Steve Bruce came out with the other week were very nice, and it's one thing to get that praise but another to carry it on."
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Life on the bench: 'You are always waiting'
Darlow, who signed a new five-year contract at Newcastle back in September, has been at St James' Park since leaving Nottingham Forest in 2014. During that time, he has had spells in the limelight, most notably under Rafael Benitez when his 13 clean sheets helped the club win the 2016/17 Sky Bet Championship title and return to the top flight.
However, before this season's breakthrough, he has had to be extremely patient for a Premier League chance having been Martin Dubravka's understudy since the Slovakia international joined the club from Sparta Prague in 2018, and life on the substitutes' bench is not easy for a goalkeeper with ambitions to be the main man.
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"At the end of the week you want to be playing games and you want to be in amongst it and competing, so there's always that disappointment factor when you get to the end of the week that you are not going to be able to showcase what you've been doing in training," he said.
"That's a big thing for me now, I'm relishing the opportunity of being able to go and prove what I can do, show off what I've been working on in training throughout the week and then taking it into games."
When asked about the challenges of being the back-up goalkeeper, Darlow added: "You are always waiting.
"I didn't know whether the chance would come around or if I would have to leave to go elsewhere to get games, but with Martin's injury it gave me a big opportunity.
"I knew I'd have to do very well to even maintain my place. He's been excellent for us for the last two or so seasons, so it was something I was relishing, getting in and making the most of that opportunity, and doing what I have done so far."
Karl Darlow's journey to Newcastle No 1
Karl Darlow talks to Sky Sports about his journey to becoming Newcastle's first-choice goalkeeper, his influences and a possible England call-up.
Darlow's big break
This season Darlow has taken that step onto the big stage.
Following an injury sustained by Dubravka in the summer, he has taken the opportunity presented to him and his impressive displays in the opening half of the season have attracted plenty of plaudits, with speculation an England call-up may follow.
So, what's the step up to being the main man like?
"He’s had to wait patiently but he’s grasped it. If there’s a better goalkeeper at the moment I’m yet to see it. I’m delighted with him, and I’ve now got that wonderful headache, with Dubravka fit and him, and they’re pushing each other on and let’s hope he keeps performing like he does."
"You are there to be shot at a bit more when you are playing and you are in the limelight," he said.
"But, that's part and parcel of the pressures of playing professional football and being in the Premier League.
"For me, it's just great to be out there when the opportunities arise and I'm just trying to make the most of that at the minute, trying to help Newcastle perform and push up the league."
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"It's something I've not thought about, to be honest," he added when asked about being an understudy goalkeeper again.
"I'm staying in the moment and making sure what I do is more than enough to stay in the team week in and week out.
"That's the only way I can think about it. It's the way of a professional athlete, making sure that if you are in, you stay in and do the business. It's all on yourself to make sure you do a professional job every time you are placed in the team."
Darlow and Martinez making up for lost time
On Saturday, Darlow will come up against another goalkeeper who has faced a similar journey to his own.
Thrust into the limelight last season at Arsenal following Bernd Leno's injury, Emiliano Martinez produced a number of eye-catching performances for the Gunners, helping them lift the FA Cup and qualify for Europe. But it was not enough to earn him the No. 1 spot at the Emirates Stadium and he took the opportunity to move to Aston Villa in search of first-team football.
It brought an end to a 10-year stay at Arsenal, which included just 39 appearances for the Gunners and six loan spells, but now, like Darlow, he is making up for lost time at Villa Park.
"He's been brilliant," Darlow said. "I watched him against Man City and once again, he did really well.
"There are a few similarities between us, in terms of us not playing for a few years and then getting into the limelight this season and doing a good job.
"It's nice to see goalkeepers doing well, who have come in from out of nowhere almost. He got a chance at the back end of last season with Arsenal and proved his worth. It's good to see him doing well and I look forward to myself and him taking on the challenge at the weekend."
'We just need a win'
It's been a difficult few weeks for Newcastle, who are without a win in nine league games in all competitions.
A fifth away league defeat of the season at Arsenal last Monday was another blow to Bruce and his players as criticism continues to mount on the under-pressure Magpies boss.
Newcastle have the chance to turn their fortunes at Aston Villa on Saturday, live on Sky Sports, and Darlow insists they are determined to get back to winning ways.
"The good thing about this period is there's always a game around the corner where you can put things right," he said ahead of the clash at Villa Park.
"Everyone knows what he can do and how creative he is for us. It will be nice to have him back and to have another attacking option which can help us out up the pitch and hopefully get us a few goals."
"Every single time we've been in these situations before in the past few seasons we've always come out of them well.
"We know we've got a great group in there that's an honest bunch of lads with great motivation and determination to get us out of this sticky situation we're in at the minute.
"The Premier League is always the same. If you get one result it breeds confidence into the squad and then, you never know from there. We just need that victory and it doesn't matter how it comes.
"We just need to get three points on the board."
Watch Aston Villa vs Newcastle live on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event from 7.30pm on Saturday; kick-off 8pm