Steve Bruce must unleash Joe Willock from the off at Burnley on Sunday in a shake-up from the Newcastle United side that drew 1-1 with Tottenham Hotspur.
The Arsenal loanee combined with Miguel Almiron to strike an 85th-minute equaliser against Jose Mourinho’s north Londoners, having been dropped to the bench.
His goal sealed a vital point for the Toon in their fight for Premier League survival, with Bruce’s men now three points clear of the drop zone and still with a game in hand over 18th-placed Fulham.
Was Bruce wrong to bench Willock vs Spurs?
Yes, what was he thinking?
No, his decision worked out
Willock had started each of his previous seven appearances for the Magpies since moving to St. James’ Park on loan in February, but was one of six changes from the 3-0 thrashing to relegation-rivals Brighton & Hove Albion.
Bruce decided that Willock would be one of the many to drop to the bench against Spurs to afford the 21-year-old a rest, despite losing Isaac Hayden for the rest of the season with a knee injury and having the international break to regain fitness.
“He’s only young, and he’s played six or seven on the bounce. I just thought with Sean [Longstaff starting], who’s waited a long time for a chance. There were some big calls,” Bruce said, via quotes by The Shields Gazette.
“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.”
Bruce’s decision to introduce Willock from the bench may have paid off with the £14.5m-rated midfielder – who Arsenal are open to selling – scoring a vital equaliser, but the Newcastle boss must look to bring him back into the starting line-up at Burnley.
Bruce got his tactics wrong in part against Tottenham despite the result and the improved performance from United, having fielded Emil Krafth as a makeshift centre-half only for the natural right-back to struggle and never appear comfortable in the role.
Mourinho’s men enjoyed a lot of success in attacking Krafth, who Bruce must ruthlessly axe for Sunday’s trip to Turf Moor having seen Jacob Murphy thrive at wing-back in place of the Sweden international.
Bruce can make do without Krafth occupying one of three central defensive roles against Sean Dyche’s Clarets, so should change Newcastle’s system to allow for Willock to start while also moving Almiron back into a more advanced role.
Willock can cover the ground on the right-hand side of Bruce’s midfield trio that Almiron was tasked with against Tottenham, and free the Paraguayan to pull the strings directly behind Joelinton.
The Toon boss must now unleash that energy from the off once again, and be aggressive in his team selection against a Burnley side that has drawn their last five Premier League games at Turf Moor.