Features. Elliot Anderson: 'I feel like I've got a lot more to show than maybe what the fans have seen. I don't think they've seen the real me'

27 Apr 24

It is often said that injuries breed feelings of isolation so it is in a slightly ironic twist of circumstance that Newcastle United's treatment room was far from a lonely place in those concerning winter months. Elliot Anderson was there and the company lifted him.

Tom Easterby
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"It really helped everyone, to be honest," he says. "When you're injured it's a really lonely place - by yourself in the gym, working every day, with everyone else outside. But as it happened - which is unfortunate in another way - there were quite a few of us together.

"I spent a lot of my rehab with Tiggs (Matt Targett), which was good. We were on the pitch together, pushing each other and getting fitter, and it was good to have someone with you. We were back training on the same day, so we were both pushing each other on, ready to get back at it."

This has been, according to the 21-year-old, the "toughest season" of his nascent career. The stress fracture in his lower back he suffered in October kept him out for far longer than the six weeks initially hoped. At the end of that period, he had a scan to check everything was alright. "And it wasn't," he adds. "So the specialist said I needed another six weeks of doing what I'd been doing. That was tough to take.

"I struggled, to be fair. I wouldn't say I dealt with it amazingly. Every day, when I'd go to bed, I'd be counting another day off to the six-week scan. When I got that news about it being another six weeks, for the first few days I struggled. But then I managed to pick myself up and be ready for the next six weeks.

"It's really tough seeing the lads going out to train, but I wanted to be in here (the training ground). I didn't really want too much time away. I had a hip injury a few years back and was out for a decent amount of time. I deal with it quite well but in the moment I start worrying and things like that. Once I'm back fit I feel like I'm in a better place.

"I think there's a window of thinking, 'right, I want to get away for a week or two'. But once I'm away, after a week I just want to be back working. Just coming in every day and getting one per cent better really was what I wanted to do."

In the close season, Anderson worked on his fitness with his siblings, Louis and Wil. "Last year, (I was) maybe a bit unfit in my eyes, so I went in the off-season and trained hard with my brothers," he told UNITED in August. "That's impacted me quite a lot and obviously some of the goals I've scored in pre-season have come from fitness, so I think it's stuff like that and being in the gym that helps you on the pitch."

Looking back to last summer, when he felt the need to graft, he wonders if his own overexertion may have contributed to what happened this term. "Maybe it was from training so hard in the off-season, I don't know. But it just sort of came on and became too sore to carry on.

"That was something that was sort of going through my mind, and I was questioning myself. Did I give myself enough rest? Did I go too hard? But personally, I just sort of came to the conclusion that I don't think you can go too hard. I don't think I'll change."

He smiles. He knows himself. "I'm very like that," adds the Whitley Bay-born midfielder. "I just get carried away. Sometimes I say to myself, 'I'm not going to push myself so much when I go out', but then, when I'm there, I just do it. I just can't not."

That same boundless endeavour fuelled his breakthrough into the Magpies' Champions League-bound side last term. He did not look out of place, despite having spent much of the previous campaign on loan at Bristol Rovers in League Two, where he had excelled. It swelled his belief that this year - with more games theoretically representing more opportunities - would be a big one.

"I really thought this was going to be the season to get in the team," he admits. "I felt really good, I'd worked really hard, and I'd put everything into it. To have an injury like that as well - a really unlucky one - made it even worse. I always think to myself, 'what position would I be in now if I didn’t get injured?' But I think I need to put that to the back of my mind and just do it all again, which I believe I can.

"Because I knew I had a long period of time out, I started working on things that I knew I needed to work on - certain aspects like gaining muscle, and some power. Me and Nathan (Ring), the physio, really worked on some things like that, and I think I had a good chunk of time to notice a lot of improvement, which we did on the testing and things. I'm probably in a better place for it."

Others see that too. It is clear that in a physical sense, Anderson is an entirely different player to the raw teenage prospect who debuted at 18 in 2021. He is now half a century of games into his senior career at St. James' Park, a milestone he reached at Crystal Palace on Wednesday night.

"I didn't really realise I was there. I thought it was maybe 40. But it's a really big thing. I was a bit shocked when I found out." Plenty of players he watched in black and white as a child never got near that figure. "Yeah. I heard my mum saying something like there weren't that many Geordies to have made 50-plus recently. It's a big achievement."

There is still one notable box to tick. Anderson knows what's coming. He sighs. "It is (playing on my mind), but I don't want it to too much, and get stressed about it and stuff," he says of that elusive first goal. "It's going to come. In training, it's probably one of my best attributes, scoring goals, so I'm just waiting for it to happen because when the first one happens I feel like they'll come.

"I feel like the fans are just as desperate for me to score as myself, and I'm just hoping it's at St. James'. It's something I want to add to my game, goals and assists, and I think they'll come."

A bit of a buzz spreads through the stands when he gets himself into the box, as he did a number of times in the 4-0 drubbing of Spurs a fortnight ago. His directness and balance complements some latent power. He insists he doesn't notice that expectant hum. But surely he took in the ovation he received when he was withdrawn in the final moments of that game?

"When I was walking off I had a look round, and everyone was standing up and applauding. It's a really nice feeling as well. Really good, really good." He momentarily loses his trail of thought as Anthony Gordon walks and gestures jokingly at him. "It gives me a real confidence boost. Obviously I don't see too much of what the fans are saying. But if you feel like they've got a lot of respect for how you're doing and confidence in you, it really motivates me and gives me more confidence on the pitch."

It could yet be a run-in to remember. Anderson is likely to play more games in the Magpies' midfield three, with Joelinton, Joe Willock and Lewis Miley all sidelined for various periods of the 2023/24 run-in. "I feel like I've got a lot more to show than maybe what the fans have seen. I don't think they've seen the real me, really," he says. "I just want to sort of show them what they've missed when I've been out injured, and make a real difference to the team.

"We're really pushing to get those European places. The gaffer keeps showing us the few teams ahead of us and saying, 'can we catch these?' and over the past week or two, with the results we've had, we've really caught up to Manchester United and West Ham. We're just looking at each game and attacking it with everything we have, and seeing where it takes us. We've got a really good chance of getting Europe and we could have a strong finish to the season.

"I'm really happy - having that responsibility on your shoulders to try and help the team qualify for Europe is really exciting. It gives me a little buzz, really, and it's probably more enjoyable than coming back and having a comfortable position. It's the business time of the season. To be involved in these games is everything."

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