Newcastle’s bench flex blows Aston Villa away as rebuild enters its next phase

4 minute read

Matty Cash had just passed up a glorious opportunity to pull one back, but there was no danger of Eddie Howe going into protection mode at 3-1 up following the Aston Villa defender’s miss midway through the second half. The Newcastle United boss instead turned to his bench and threw on both Callum Wilson and Harvey Barnes a few minutes later.

Between them, the £58m pair scored 31 league goals last season. If ever a statement summed up the quality Newcastle are now able to call upon in reserve. A year previously, with respect, Howe was bringing on Ryan Fraser and Chris Wood.

Quite a lot has changed in 12 months and this rebuild has long entered its next phase. What has not changed, though, is the team-first mentality at the club. Barnes and Wilson could have sulked after being left out; instead the pair looked eager to make up for lost time at St James’ Park.

READ MORE:Newcastle send ‘love’ to Tyrone Mings as Geordies show class after ‘nasty’ Aston Villa injury

“Everyone who didn’t play was naturally disappointed, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Howe told reporters after the 5-1 win. “As long as there’s respect for your team-mates, respect for the decision, that’s all I can ask. I’d want that disappointment from anyone who’s not picked to play. That means they’re fired up and motivated to do well for themselves and the team.”

That was quickly evident on Saturday, and Barnes and Wilson combined for Newcastle’s fourth goal just nine minutes after entering the fray. Sandro Tonali, another new addition, released Barnes before the winger unselfishly cut the ball across to Wilson. Newcastle’s top scorer last season was never going to miss as he found the back of the net on the opening day for the fourth consecutive campaign.

Villa’s high line repeatedly struggled with the energy and pace of Newcastle’s substitutes late on - a helpless Unai Emery admitted ‘we knew it and those are the circumstances which are very difficult to stop’ - and there was still time for Barnes to grab a goal on his competitive debut in stoppage time. This time, it was Jacob Murphy, another late replacement who was a starter at the business end of last season, that threaded the ball through and Barnes put it away to make it 5-1 and send Newcastle top on the opening day.

It felt like a glimpse of what is to come. Here was Wilson responding to Isak scoring two goals and Barnes reacting to Gordon putting in an impressive performance. This is what healthy competition looks like.

Having such options on the bench, whether it is Isak or Wilson or Barnes or Gordon, will be all the more important given the number of games Newcastle have in all competitions this season and the amount of stoppage time being added on when opposition sides may tire. Howe did not always use all five of his permitted substitutions in games last season but, tellingly, the Newcastle head coach did so on the opening day.

It is not just up front where Newcastle have depth, either. Sean Longstaff, a key player last season, was only introduced in the 85th minute against Villa while Elliot Anderson, the star of pre-season, had to make do with coming on in stoppage time. New signing Tino Livramento did not even get on for his debut. Lewis Miley, Paul Dummett and Loris Karius, who were all on the bench on the final day of last season, could not even make the match day squad 76 days later - and that is before you even mention the omitted Matt Ritchie, who has been a mainstay for seven years now.

Tino Livramento watches on

Tino Livramento watches on

To think there is also the small matter of Joe Willock returning from injury after the international break; only Kieran Trippier, Sven Botman and Dan Burn played more league games than the midfielder last season. For, arguably, the first time since taking charge, Howe has intense competition for places and selection headaches in a host of positions.

“They are dilemmas that I need because we are going to need the strongest squad possible,” he added. The players that missed out will play loads of games this season. That’s just a fact because we’re in so many different competitions. We’re going to be stretched, but we also believe in their quality as well so it’s going to be nice to be able to make those decisions.”

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