It is fair to say when Martin Dubravka picked up an injury ahead of the start of the season, Newcastle United fans feared the worst.

After all, Dubravka had been Newcastle's most consistent performer across each of the last two campaigns, while number two goalkeeper Karl Darlow had not kept net in a Premier League match for over two-and-a-half years.

Freddie Woodman, the club's talented former under-20 World Cup winner, had just penned a new three-year deal at the club and headed off to Swansea on loan knowing that Newcastle saw him as the club's long term successor to Dubravka.

In the eyes of most fans, Darlow, who had impressed at both Championship and Premier League level when called upon in fairness to him, was very much a back-up goalkeeper - despite his new five-year deal at the club.

So when it was confirmed Dubravka would be facing months out, there was apprehension among the Toon Army knowing that Darlow would be thrust into the number one position.

They needn't have worried, though. Steve Bruce never held such fears and privately believes the 30-year-old is good enough to be a regular Premier League number one.

Darlow has responded by repaying Bruce's faith and then some. A clean sheet at West Ham was backed up by a brilliant man-of-the-match display against Tottenham last weekend.

His 13 saves at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium kept Newcastle in it and gave them the platform to steal an unlikely point when Callum Wilson levelled from the penalty spot in the seventh minute of stoppage time.

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho dubbed his performance 'phenomenal' and he again impressed against Burnley, as he had to cope with a number of high balls and crosses amid the physical pressure of the Clarets' aerial threat.

After the international break, Darlow faced up to bombardment against Manchester United and Wolves, and although he probably should have done better with Raul Jimenez's goal, he responded to help the Magpies beat Everton.

Questions were raised over Southampton's first goal the following week but when he is facing more shots on goal than any other in the division, mistakes are almost inevitable to creep in.

He responded with a stunning save in the second half and he again impressed against Chelsea and Crystal Palace in November.

Darlow remains, statistically, the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season and admitted last month he has designs on an England call-up.

A lot can change in a few months and Darlow has gone from an after-thought at Newcastle to possibly being in contention to be in England's European Championships squad next summer.

Any chances of a Three Lions call-up, though, would depend on his game-time at Newcastle and with Dubravka expected to return to fitness before the end of the year, Bruce is going to have a big decision to make.

Darlow has admitted he 'couldn't resign himself' to being a number two again after his positive run of form and Newcastle United legends Malcolm Macdonald and Alan Shearer have both said in recent weeks that Darlow deserves to keep the goalkeeping jersey when the Slovakian returns to fitness.

It would be hard for Bruce to drop Darlow on current form, granted, but Dubravka's contribution at Newcastle shouldn't just be discarded and recency bias cannot be allowed to cloud such a huge decision.

Steve Bruce and Mike Ashley

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Now, Steve Bruce must recollect his team and push forward  without the change of ownership and new backing.

However, the twists and turns aren't over, with current owner Mike Ashley 'considering all options' after the Premier League rejected the £300m takeover.

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Just like Darlow has made the most saves of any Premier League goalkeeper this season, Dubravka made the most saves of any shot-stopper in the division last term as well as he was named Newcastle United's Player of the Year.

It shouldn't also be forgotten the difference Dubravka made to Newcastle when he REPLACED Darlow midway through the 2017/18 season and the Slovakian was largely credited for helping Newcastle steer their way to Premier League survival.

The Magpies' defence certainly looked more assured with Dubravka behind them.

Lest we forget the relief that radiated through St James' Park when Dubravka claimed his first cross in his debut against Manchester United. He did so with a calmness and exuded a confidence that had been missing from goalkeepers during the first two years of Rafa Benitez's reign.

Let's also remind ourselves that Dubravka was linked with European giants Juventus and PSG to name but a few because of his performances for Newcastle and he isn't far from being in that 'world class' bracket. Indeed, Jonjo Shelvey tipped Dubravka to earn a move to a major European club earlier this year.

Let's not forget the fact he has been consistently heralded as the club's best goalkeeper since Shay Given and a goalkeeper, who by Benitez's admission, consistently 'won us points'.

What is clear, is that Newcastle will not benefit from any indecision over the gloves. While competition for places is healthy, being a goalkeeper is unique to other positions on the pitch. Confidence will be affected and doubts will creep into performances unless there is a definitive decision over who is Newcastle's number one going forward.

And while Darlow has performed well this season, when you look at their contributions over the course of their respective spells at Newcastle, you would be hard pressed to justify putting him ahead of Dubravka in the pecking order.

Given Dubravka has the European Championships to look forward to with Slovakia, he will not be happy keeping the bench warm on Tyneside. It is also not what his performances over the last three years at the club deserve.

That being said, Darlow has earned the right to be a regular Premier League goalkeeper and whatever decision is made this winter, coupled with the return of Woodman next summer, something will likely have to give at the end of the season when it comes to the Magpies' goalkeeping department.

The question for Newcastle, Steve Bruce and the Magpies fans is: Who would you rather lose?

For all Darlow's been brilliant across three months, it would be a shame to alienate Dubravka after two-and-a-half years' worth of brilliant performances.