IT’S not been an easy few weeks at Newcastle United.
Especially not for Jak Alnwick.
A few weeks ago, the 21-year-old goalkeeper’s only competitive senior appearances had come for non-league club Gateshead at its International Stadium home and at other less fashionable footballing outposts, including Telford’s Bucks Head and Blyth Spartans’ Croft Park.
And Alnwick was seemingly destined to leave the club he supported as a boy next summer without once pulling on a Newcastle jersey in the Premier League.
Then it happened.
Rob Elliot, deputising for the injured Tim Krul, suffered a thigh tear against Chelsea.
Alnwick, so long in the shadows, was thrust into the spotlight.
It’s been the best of times, the worst of times for the Hexham-born player, who joined the club from Sunderland as a teenager.
Alnwick has played three times at St James’s Park, and also turned out at Old Trafford, White Hart Lane and the Emirates Stadium.
He memorably came off the bench against Chelsea and flattened Diego Costa while clearing the ball during the club’s 2-1 win over Jose Mourinho’s previously-unbeaten team.
Then came the lows, defeats to Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur ... and Sunderland.
A Boxing Day defeat to Manchester United followed the Tyne-Wear derby, decided by a last-minute goal from Adam Johnson that Alnwick could do nothing to stop.
But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
And Alnwick – in goal for Sunday’s 3-2 home win over Everton, Alan Pardew’s last in charge – feels he’s learnt more in the past few weeks than in the whole of his fledgling career.
“It’s all experience for me,” Alnwick said. “It’s not been nice losing games, but I feel I’ve been building in each game and getting more confident.
“That’s what it’s all about for me. It’ll make me into a better goalkeeper.
“As a team, we’ll keep kicking on over the New Year.
“As a goalkeeper, no matter what age group or standard you play, you’ve got to be mentally strong.
“It’s got its ups and downs, but you’ve got to keep going. As a team, we showed good character.”
United had to come from behind against Everton, who took an early lead on a bitterly cold afternoon at St James’s Park. When the full-time whistle went, it was a moment to savour for Alnwick.
“We had a tough run of games playing against good attacking teams,” he said.
“To go a goal down and show the character we did was amazing. Everton are a good side, and going a goal down seemed to kick start us.
“We pushed on from there, and once we got the first goal, we know we could score more.
“It was about getting the lead and trying to see out the game, which we did. I’ve always got to concentrate, especially in games like that.
“We defended well as a unit. I had a little bit to do, and that’s what I’m there for.
“It was my first win in the starting line-up.
“For me, it was a great feeling as a Newcastle-born player to hear the cheer at the end of the game.”
Alnwick is ready to go again, with managerless Newcastle entertaining Burnley at St James’s Park tomorrow.
“Games are coming thick and fast at the minute,” he said.
“We always knew it was going to be a tough run, and it was a massive three points after the run we’ve been on.
“Now we’ve got to go again against Burnley and get another three points.”