Elliott poised for United comeback - 29/03/2004
When Robbie Elliott realised he would miss out on a first taste of senior action in 14 months against Mallorca on Thursday his thunderous expression said it all.
Having warmed the bench during seven of Newcastle's last nine games, the Gosforth-born defender had been led to believe his reward would be a cameo role in the Balearics.
Instead Sir Bobby Robson chose to throw on promising teenager Steven Taylor ahead of the popular Elliott and another chance to revive his United career was missed.
"I wasn't best pleased," admitted the former England Under-21 international. "But I soon calmed down."
It is a measure of the 30-year-old's quiet progress this season that the transfer-listed left-back is even in a position to feel aggrieved at Robson's decision making. Only two months ago Elliott was out of the first-team picture altogether, occasionally turning out for Tommy Craig's reserves and frequently overlooked as a capable defensive option.
Officially up for sale but desperate to stay on Tyneside, the former Bolton Wanderers favourite was in limbo. Yet his consummate professionalism, combined with a recent exodus of Newcastle defenders, has provided light at the end of a very long tunnel.
"I'll be in the squad for the trip to Bolton this weekend and that's more than I could have hoped for until very recently," mused Elliott.
"At least I feel part of things again and there is something to aim for at the end of the week. In that respect my position is a little better than it was a few weeks ago but I'm still not having any luck. Ollie Bernard took a few knocks against Charlton last weekend but managed to finish the game and play against Mallorca.
"Had things turned out differently then I might have played and the manager did speak to me on a couple of occasions before the game in Spain. I thought I might get a chance."
During his first season back at St James's Park, Elliott played 27 Premiership matches for Newcastle but a defender reaching his prime was unceremoniously dumped during the following campaign.
Two substitutes' appearances represented the sum total of the full- back's league action last season as Olivier Bernard emerged as the preferred foil for Laurent Robert down the left flank.
"Things haven't panned out quite how I'd like them to have done but hindsight is a great thing in football," added Elliott.
"I can't help but wonder what might have been had I stayed with Bolton but how many players get a second chance to play for their hometown team? I still believe I made the right decision signing for Sir Bobby when I did - had I chosen to stay with Wanderers then I would always have been asking myself `what if?'. I don't think any Newcastle fan would do any different - just ask Alan Shearer or Michael Bridges."
Elliott missed last season's trip to the Reebok Stadium but it was one of THE games to miss for Newcastle's defenders. Sam Allardyce's men put four past the helpless Shay Given on Boxing Day and, until a damaging recent dip in form, Bolton have continued to go from strength to strength.
"It's amazing to think of where Wanderers were when I left the club in the summer of 2001 and where they are now," agreed Elliott, who represented the Lancastrians in the league on 86 occasions in four years.
"The club had just won promotion but talk of signing players of the quality of Youri Djorkaeff and Jay-Jay Okocha would have been dismissed as fantasy.
"Sam has made it happen and he has done a remarkable job.
"Okocha is one of the best players in the world and he has been strutting his stuff at the Reebok Stadium. The turnaround at Wanderers in the last six years has been quite incredible."
Having won by the odd goal in seven against Newcastle 15 months ago, Bolton will no doubt believe this weekend's fixture provides the perfect opportunity to end a run of six league games without a victory.
However, Wanderers have fallen to the foot of the Premiership form table following Carling Cup defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough and Elliott added: "On paper this is another game Newcastle can win. Perhaps we were not at our best defensively last season but at the moment we're one of the most difficult teams to break down.
"Three goals and a clean sheet certainly helped on Thursday and there is a belief in the squad that we can make further progress. It's no secret that we've failed to hit the heights this season but our last four performances have provided everyone with a great deal of encouragement."
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