LONG-SERVING goalkeeper Steve Harper is 196 not out at Newcastle United – and chasing a double century.
Harper has returned to the first-team picture at St James’s Park this season after a year on the sidelines.
And the 37-year-old will be between the posts for the Wear-Tyne derby against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light a week tomorrow if No1 Tim Krul fails to prove his fitness.
Harper (left) has been dubbed “Cocoon” by goalkeeping coach Andy Woodman, referring to the sci-fi film about a group of elderly people who are rejuvenated by aliens.
The Easington-born player, in his 15th first-team season at the club, would love to make it to 200 career appearances for Newcastle.
As well as Krul, Harper faces competition from Rob Elliot, who has impressed this season but is sidelined with a groin problem.
With the club’s fixture list congested by Europa League fixtures, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has rotated his goalkeepers, and there will be more games for Harper and Elliot over the coming months.
And Harper – who made his 196th career appearance for the club in last weekend’s 3-0 defeat to Manchester United – is hopeful of reaching a career landmark in the final year of his present contract.
“I’d like to get to 300,” Harper joked. “But I can’t see it happening at my age!
“That (200 appearances) would be nice – that’s certainly a landmark I’d like to get to.
“Tim’s comeback’s not too far away, but we do have a lot of games. We’ve got a long season ahead of us.
“Robbie’s made big strides forward in this last month or two. Those performances will do him the world of good.”
Harper, signed from Seaham Red Star as an 18-year-old in 1993, didn’t make a competitive first-team appearance last term for Newcastle, though he had a month-long spell on loan at Brighton and Hove Albion.
And his career at the club looked to be at a crossroads in the summer after an injury-hit two years.
However, a talk with Pardew on the first day of pre-season training convinced him he still had a future at St James’s Park, and his summer suitors, understood to include Lee Clark’s Birmingham City, were told he was not for sale.
Harper, with the help of the club’s medical team and Woodman, has since found form and fitness.
“I’m enjoying it. Last year, my knee wasn’t good – I was lucky if I could train twice a week,” said Harper.
“But it feels good. In three months this season, I’ve missed two days’ training, and I’ve been involved in every single first-team game. Long may it continue!”
Krul, meanwhile, is set to return to training on Wednesday after more than a month on the sidelines.
The 24-year-old suffered an elbow injury while on international duty with Holland last month.
Pardew is hopeful Krul will be available for selection at the Stadium of Light, where Harper was pushed to the ground by a Sunderland fan late in a 1-1 draw between the two side the season before last.