WITH just 138 minutes of Premier League football under his belt, Eldin Jakupovic will today be handed one of the toughest goalkeeping assignments in football.
Hull City’s third-choice stopper will start only his seventh league game for the club since moving to England in the summer of 2012 and it will come in front of the unforgiving Anfield Kop.
Injuries to Allan McGregor and Steve Harper have handed the one-time Switzerland international his unexpected chance and it is one that causes manager Steve Bruce no qualms.
“Goalkeeping is difficult in that only one can play in a game,” said the Tigers’ chief, “and it is rare that two goalkeepers will get injured at the same time.
“But that is why you have them and why every 25-man squad has three goalkeepers. You need cover for these situations.
“I see Eldin on the training ground and he is a very good goalkeeper. He just had to get used to playing in England.
“We played him at Old Trafford last season in the Premier League and he did very well. He did very well at the Emirates last week, too.
“I have got no problems with him (playing at Liverpool). I wouldn’t have given him a new deal (in the summer) if I didn’t think he was capable.”
Jakupovic, who was born in Yugoslavia but moved to Switzerland as a youngster following the outbreak of the Bosnian war, joined Hull from Greek side Aris.
He had previously played for Olympiakos Volou in Greece, plus Lokomotiv Moscow, FC Thun and Grasshoppers.
The 30-year-old’s debut in English football came midway through the 2012-13 season in a 2-1 victory over Derby County. He then played the next four games before having to be carried from the field towards the end of a 3-1 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.
After that, Bruce re-signed David Stockdale on loan and the Leeds-born goalkeeper stayed in the team throughout a run-in that climaxed with Hull clinching promotion to the Premier League.
Last season brought two loan spells at Leyton Orient in League One before Bruce turned to Jakupovic for the penultimate game of last season, a 3-1 defeat at Manchester United, to give Harper a rest during the build-up to the FA Cup final.
A new two-year contract offer was then accepted in the summer with the Hull manager believing his two loan spells at Brisbane Road proved the making of Jakupovic.
“He was the classic one who just needed some games to get used to playing in England,” said Bruce, who is expected to have young goalkeeper Rory Watson on the bench at Anfield.
“No disrespect to playing in Greece or Switzerland, but it doesn’t have the same physicality of playing in England.
“In Greece, you can’t get touched as a goalkeeper. But here you can get bashed up a bit.
“After he went down to Leyton Orient, where he did particularly well. I saw a change in him. He didn’t lack confidence, it was just getting used to our game.
“It took time but he has certainly improved. We decided that he has got something to offer and that is why we offered the contract.”
A place on the bench at Anfield for teenager Watson, a former pupil at Tadcaster Grammar School, will continue his recovery from the bitter blow of being released by Leeds United as a youngster for being too small.
Bruce, of course, will be hoping that the 18-year-old, who travelled with the first team to Newcastle United recently, will not be called upon after suffering such rotten luck in losing McGregor and Harper to shoulder and bicep injuries respectively.
Neither goalkeeper is expected to return before the international break, while Hull must also do without both Michael Dawson and Nikica Jelavic for up to six weeks.
Left-back Andrew Robertson is also a major doubt for today’s trip to Anfield after receiving a knock to his knee, while Tom Huddlestone continues to nurse a groin problem.
The sudden flurry of injuries has left Bruce pondering “four or five changes” from the team that battled so manfully to draw 2-2 at Arsenal a week ago.
With Jelavic out with the injury he suffered during the warm-up at the Emirates, Abel Hernandez will again start up front alongside Hatem Ben Arfa.
The draw with the Gunners was the first league start for Ben Arfa, who joined the Tigers on transfer deadline day, and Bruce admits to being pleased with the attitude shown by a player who was frozen out by Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew earlier in the season.
Bruce said: “I can only go off the six weeks we have been together but, of course, when we signed him there was all these horror stories that surround him.
“But in the six weeks he has been here, he has worked very, very hard. Last week at Arsenal, he was as disciplined as anyone on the pitch. To go and do the job he did was terrific.
“So far, touch wood, I can only say good things.
“He has lost weight, he has been on a training programme, he is back in the afternoons and he is doing extra. He has done everything he possibly can do. I hope that continues.
“We didn’t see a lot of him in attacking areas because he spent most of his energies working for the team.
“We changed it after 15 minutes with him more on the left, but in that role he helped the team and that helped us get a result.
“I felt he did really well and he is in the driving seat now to hold on to the position.”