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Opinion

Proof that certain Newcastle United players need to be thrown in at the deep end

5 months ago
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Last May, against my better judgement, I went to Goodison Park to watch Newcastle United Under 23s take on their counterparts from Everton in the final of the Premier League Cup.

Ben Dawson’s young Newcastle United players only lost the game 1-0 but in truth, were outclassed in all departments, as they lost to one of the best young teams in the country.

The reason I’m writing this article though, is because in midfield for Newcastle that day was a certain Matty Longstaff. Easily identifiable in the centre of the park due to his flaming ginger hair, Longstaff saw a great deal of the ball that night, and though he looked tidy in possession, I saw nothing to suggest that he had the potential to come into the first team reckoning in the future.

How wrong I would prove to be, as five months later he would make his Premier League first team debut against Manchester United, score the winning goal, and produce an outstanding performance alongside his brother Sean, with the pair dominating the midfield.

He gave a performance on the highest stage that I simply didn’t think he was capable of as he made the step up to first team football look an easy one.

Turning 20 years old in March, he has now made 12 appearances for the first team, scoring three goals, before the football season was suspended.

The younger Longstaff had been thrown in due to the suspension of Isaac Hayden, who had been sent off the previous week in the dismal defeat away at Leicester, while Jonjo Shelvey was relegated to the bench.

It felt very much like Matty had been thrown in as a last throw of the dice for an increasingly desperate Bruce, who was looking for a significant performance to kick start the dismal start he had made to his time in charge.

The gamble paid off.

Matty’s older brother Sean had come into the team in very similar circumstances less than 12 months previously.

After successful loan spells with Kilmarnock and Blackpool, Sean was on the verge of being sent on loan once more in 2018-19 until Rafa Benitez decided to keep him as cover for the first team. Despite this he wouldn’t make his first appearance for the team until the Boxing Day defeat away at Liverpool and only made his first start in the Premier League on 12 January in the narrow defeat away to Chelsea.

He took to first team action like a duck to water and was outstanding before succumbing to a knee injury that would end his season prematurely. What was interesting though is that Longstaff was only given an opportunity when Benitez ran out of options lst season and had no choice but to play the youngster.

Diame and Shelvey were injured, while Ki Sung-yeung had been called up by South Korea for the Asia Cup.

Had the situation not arisen, it’s hard to predict whether Rafael Benitez would have given Sean Longstaff his opportunity. I’m not questioning Rafa’s judgement at all – he was the one assessing the players on a daily basis and would have seen how Longstaff compared to other players competing for those positions in the midfield.

But some players just have a temperament that allows them to rise to the big occasions and the Longstaff brothers (despite a drop off in form for Sean this season) are clearly players who play better on a bigger stage.

There might be other youngsters in the academy capable of making the step up to play for the first team, and the more local youngsters that are making the grade, the better it is for the club in the long term.

Sometimes they just need to be given the opportunity to prove themselves.

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