Steve Bruce was asked during his press conference on Friday, whether there would be changes due to the lack of goals without Callum Wilson in the squad. Bruce had continued with the 4-3-3 despite having to put some square pegs into round holes.
Bruce’s answer was succinct but not very forthright. He simply said ‘there could be.’ As it turned out, there definitely was some big changes in the works for yesterday’s draw against Tottenham.
Bruce shifted back to the 5-3-2, the formation he used throughout his first preseason on Tyneside. He also juggled his starting lineup handing some unexpected starts to players who had been frozen out for the past few months.
All three (Matt Ritchie, Sean Longstaff, and Jacob Murphy) were outstanding yesterday. Ritchie put in a typically fiery performance which we have sorely missed. He combined with Jacob Murphy down the flanks to consistently get balls into the box.
Probably the biggest shock was Bruce’s decision to drop Joe Willock and bring Sean Longstaff back into the fold. The move paid off as Sean was excellent with his work rate, passing, and pressing while Willock was extremely motivated when coming on as a second-half substitute.
After the match, Bruce explained the thinking behind his decision. Here is what Bruce said about not starting Willock as published in The Shields Gazette:
“He’s only young, and he’s played six or seven on the bounce.
“I just thought with Sean (Longstaff), who’s waited a long time for a chance. There were some big calls. I’m sure there were a few raised eyebrows before it like there normally is. But this is what I’m paid for, to make decisions.
“Thankfully, to come on as a sub was the right one because he got us as a result, which was very pleasing.”
After the match, Willock admitted that he was disappointed to not have started. Here is what he told NUFC TV:
“Obviously, I was disappointed to be on the bench. I never want to be on the bench, you know.
“So to come on to help the team is something I think I needed for myself. I’m happy that we got a point out of it.”
This collective performance now will have a few players on their toes. Longstaff, Ritchie, and Murphy will be very determined to keep their places while Joe Willock, Javier Manquillo, and Jamal Lewis will be desperate to get back in the team.
So this week of training will be very important as the competition for places will be very tense. Couple that with the possible return of Callum Wilson for Burnley next Sunday, and hopefully, we’ll see another rousing display at Turf Moor.