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Dubravka's Danish exploits caught eye of one ex-pat Magpies fan back in 2014.

Byline: Mark Carruthers Sports writer @MarkCarruthers_

MARTIN Dubravka had already shone in front of Geordie eyes, four years before his impressive debut for Newcastle United.

The Slovakian international goalkeeper kept a clean sheet in his first appearance for Rafa Benitez's side, as they secured three vital points with a 1-0 win over Manchester United on Sunday.

But the 29-year-old shot-stopper had already impressed in front of one former Magpies season ticket holder in the unlikely setting of the Danish Superliga.

Magpies fan Sam Girvan moved to Denmark in 2011 to become a teacher at a school for children of expats in the seaport town of Esbjerg. He became a regular at Esbjerg's (EFB) home games and that is where he and United's new keeper's paths crossed.

Dubravka joined EFB from MSK Zilina in 2014 and Girvan explained that he made an instant impact against high-calibre opposition, just as he did on his Magpies debut on Sunday.

He said: "EFB had just won the domestic cup and were in the Europa League.

"They were on a downward slide in the Superliga and needed to bolster their squad.

"Dubravka came in with a reputation for using his feet and his distribution at Esbjerg backed that up.

"In his home debut against Fiorentina in the Europa league, EFB lost 3-1 but the deficit could have been much greater if not for Dubravka.

"He made several impressive saves and played a significant role in helping them to a 1-1 draw in the return game in Florence.

"As hoped, he had a hand in keeping Esbjerg in the Superliga and hopefully he will do the same with Newcastle.

"The long-time EFB fans I've spoken to saw the signing of Dubravka as mutually beneficial, as he would be getting the opportunity he deserved and we (Newcastle) would be getting a keeper who might help to keep us up."

Despite being impressed with Dubravka during his two-year stay at Esbjerg, Girvan admitted that he was still caught off guard by Rafa Benitez signing the nine-times capped Slovakian international.

"Seeing Dubravka sign for Newcastle could be seen by many as a surprise," he explained.

"The standard in top tier Danish football is a far cry from the Premier League and Esbjerg struggled for a number of years to play at this level before being relegated last season, the season after Dubravka left to join Slovan Liberac."

Girvan still attends Newcastle games when he returns to Tyneside to visit his family and friends.

On Sunday he had to settle for watching the big game in a local pub with rival fans in Esbjerg.

He joked that many Red Devils supporters would have wished that Benitez had decided against bringing in Dubravka on loan after his starring role.

"Much like the rest of the globe there are lots of Man Utd fans in Esbjerg, who will have been disappointed by Sunday's result and will have wished Dubravka had stayed in Prague," he said.

"But then again the many Liverpool fans and the handful of Newcastle fans here, including myself, obviously feel very differently."

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 15, 2018
Words:517
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