Newcastle’s ‘never give up’ attitude the perfect cure for Steve Bruce’s selection headache
Bruce’s squad is decimated by injuries and lacking in quality, but their attitude and fighting spirit cannot be faulted
“Believe till the end,” Newcastle United defender Fabian Schar tweeted, and somehow they did.
While Everton were prepping to celebrate a comfortable home win, which brought Moise Kean’s first goal for the club and Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s 10th in the league this season, the visitors conjured a dramatic plot twist.
How was that even possible given the length of their injury list and their imaginary offensive threat at Goodison Park? They could have been four or five down, but left Merseyside with a point.
The Newcastle manager had defenders on the bench that had to morph into his game-changers.
Emil Krafth, Schar and Florian Lejeune were introduced, with the increased physicality of the latter two proving particularly problematic for Everton at set-pieces.
“Just after they scored, Joelinton was struggling with an injury and then I’m looking behind me and we’ve got no strikers,” Bruce explained of his limited selection scope. “I wouldn’t want to put Jonjo [Shelvey] on as he was not right.
“I am asking players to play out of position: a centre-half in midfield, a midfielder up front. There is no disputing we were second best for large parts, but they hung in there.”
Lejeune wrestled the headlines away from Kean and Calvert-Lewin with a double in two minutes. The first was a eye-widening overhead kick after Jordan Pickford flapped at a corner and Schar’s ball struck Fabian Delph before the Frenchman contorted his body to acrobatically meet it.
The equaliser materialised from Tom Davies and Mason Holgate misreading Matt Ritchie’s pass and Federico Fernandez struck the post. The ball pinged to Isaac Hayden and his attempt was blocked, but Lejeune forced the ball over the line during the frantic finish.
Signed from Eibar in the summer of 2017, the centre-back was sent to Italy for an operation to rectify a ruptured ACL sustained during pre-season.
The pioneering surgery saw him return to action for the first team just five months later.
“If anyone deserved a couple of goals it was big Flo with the problems he’s had in his Newcastle career,” Bruce said.
Newcastle were level and Everton were livid with themselves. They have conceded seven goals in the 90th minute and beyond in the top flight this season, four more than any other side in the division.
Conversely, it was the first time in Premier League history that Newcastle had scored two goals during extra time in a single game.
“We were good in injury time,” Bruce joked, knowing his charges were significantly outplayed at Goodison Park. “With the problems we had it was a difficult night for us, full stop. I honestly believed when I brought people on and played people out of position it was the best we played in the game.
“To score twice was that little bit of luck you need at times. The one thing the players didn’t do was give up and somehow they have got a reward. I can’t fault their spirit. We lack in certain areas, but you can’t fault their endeavour. Even in the last 10 minutes we probably didn’t deserve anything, but we didn’t give up.”
Bruce has dipped into the market to gain some respite from an ever-increasing absentee list. Algeria international Nabil Bentaleb has joined the club on loan from Schalke for the rest of the season, with an option to make the deal permanent.
However, the Newcastle boss insisted he wouldn’t get “dragged into” making desperate signings in the window.
Bruce learnt prior to Tuesday night’s fixture that Jetro Willems will miss the rest of the season due to anterior cruciate ligament damage. Fellow defender Paul Dummett is also expected to sit out the remainder of the campaign owing to a tendon injury in his leg.
But Bruce is hoping the winter break gives Newcastle’s other causalities a chance to return to contention.
“Hopefully after we play Norwich, we’ll have a two-week break and I am quietly confident everyone will be fit,” Bruce said. “If there is someone better who can improve the squad, I’ll try in the market. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Andy Carroll, Yoshinori Muto and DeAndre Yedlin are going to be fit in a few weeks.
Newcastle host Oxford United on Saturday in the FA Cup fourth round and Bentaleb should be available to make his debut.
“He’s played at a high level with Spurs, got a big money move to Schalke and has played 90-100 times at the top end of the Bundesliga,” Bruce said. ”He’s a good acquisition for us.”