Steve Harper: Newcastle's Oft-Forgotten Elder Statesman and September Savior
With Tim Krul set to return to the pitch for Newcastle United in next Sunday's match with Manchester United, it could be easy to forget as the season goes on what transpired defensively in an unnerving September for the Magpies.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember how much worse things could have been.
Injuries to Cheick Tiote and Ryan Taylor, as well as Yohan Cabaye's struggle back to fitness, hampered Newcastle's attack all month, putting pressure on an unusually thin defense.
And with Krul, captain Fabricio Coloccini, and Danny Simpson also sidelined, Newcastle could have been looking at a catastrophic September that would make the rest of the Premier League season an intense, upward battle.
Enter Mr. Steve Harper.
The 37-year-old goalkeeper is not without experience, having been at Newcastle longer than any other player in history. He has been with the Magpies through the good times and the bad, having started in both the Champions League and the Championship.
But 19 years of experience can't always make up for 17 months without a Premier League start.
This time, it did.
Facing a tough Everton team on the road, things looked particularly bleak. But Harper performed adequately and the team salvaged a 2-2 draw, and it wasn't just his play that impacted the game.
In a move heard round the football world, Harper convinced a referee after being fouled by Victor Anichebe that the play did not warrant a booking.
His fair play is seldom seen in today's game, and his actions presented Newcastle in a good light. And maybe, just maybe, Harper's actions had an effect on the result, as an Everton goal was wrongly discounted by the referee later in the match.
Just six days later, Harper again proved his worth with a well-earned clean sheet against Norwich City in a 1-0 victory.
And despite the disappointing draw at Reading, it is important to remember much of Harper's work was disaster management.
After Steven Taylor was forced to exit in the second half, with all due respect to Mike Williamson and James Perch, the situation with our two centre-backs made no result safe from Newcastle's perspective.
Harper did some fantastic work, the best of which was on the shot from Jason Roberts in the 87th minute, to keep the score knotted at 2-2.
Assuming Krul comes back healthy and watches his elbows a little more carefully when he plays with the Netherlands national team, Harper's Premier League season is likely done.
If Newcastle are able to exceed expectations again this season and finish near the top of the table, Geordie nation cannot forget those who held the team together when they were at their weakest.
Especially not Steve Harper.
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