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Magpies’ patient man waits no more
IF there is one virtue Steve Harper has had to master during his 19-year career with Newcastle United, it is surely patience.
The 37-year-old has spent countless hours on the sidelines, waiting for an opportunity to arrive, but even by his own spread-out standards, the delay ahead of his 100th Premier League start was so lengthy it looked as though it would never come to an end.
Start number 99 came in April 2011 at Villa Park, but when Harper failed to make a single senior appearance for Newcastle last season, even spending a month on loan at Championship club Brighton, it looked as though his top-flight career was at an end.
With his appetite diminished, he was close to turning his attention to coaching. But a pre-season chat with Alan Pardew refocused his mind, and he finally brought up his century with a characteristically composed display at Everton on Monday night.
"To be honest, I probably didn't think a night like that would come again," said Harper, who will continue to deputise for the injured Tim Krul when Newcastle travel to Maritimo in the Europa League tomorrow. "It looked a long way away.
"It was probably a little bit my fault. When Tim started last season, admittedly I got the hump a bit and let my standards slip. That's probably the reason I went on loan and wasn't involved.
"The first morning of pre-season before I'd even got to the coffee machine, the manager asked to see me in his office. Credit to him, he put the fire in. I'm pleased he did.
"He just said to me, 'Have you still got it?' I said, 'Yes I do'. He told me there'd be a lot of games this year and he'd have to mix it up. He said if I showed him I still wanted it there'd be an opportunity for me there. Credit to him."
With his motivation restored, Harper was a prominent figure in pre-season, and when the action began for real on the opening weekend of the season, the Easington -born goalkeeper leapfrogged Rob Elliot to take a place on the bench against Spurs.
He played in the European away game at Atromitos, and was Pardew's logical port of call when Krul suffered an elbow injury on international duty last week.
He was powerless to prevent Leighton Baines and Victor Anichebe netting in a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park, but was involved in the most controversial incident of Monday night's game as he turned Anichebe's cross onto the crossbar before Mike Williamson cleared from half-a-foot behind the line.
"I'm told that it was just across the line, but I honestly thought that I'd saved it," said Harper.
"You never give up and I just threw my arms up and got it onto the bar. I genuinely thought I'd kept it out.
"Both goals were little deflections.
"The first one went through a defender's legs and got a clip off Willo (Williamson). The second goal was the same.
"We got a bit of bad luck with the deflections on the goals so maybe we were due a bit of good luck whereby that gets disallowed."
Newcastle return to action on the Portuguese island of Madeira tomorrow in the opening game of the Europa League's group stage.
Pardew is expected to make a number of changes, with the likes of Gael Bigirimana, Romain Amalfitano and Gabriel Obertan expected to feature, and Harper is hoping the Magpies' fringe players follow Demba Ba's lead from Monday and stake a claim for an extended run in the team.
"Hopefully players will come into it looking to show the manager - like Demba did at Goodison - that they're still a part of it and desperate to get into the first team," he said.