Having to wait two months to finally see Islam Slimani kick a ball in black and white must’ve been a kick in the teeth for Rafa Benitez, but I think he would’ve quietly impressed by what he saw from the striker on Saturday.
After signing on January 31st, he eventually made his NUFC debut exactly two months on (March 31st) with a late 15 minute cameo in the 1-0 win over Huddersfield.
I worried he’d look slow, sluggish and way off the pace, with a recent 25 minute appearance for Algeria being his only outing in over 10 weeks, but I was happy with what I saw from him, and think most of St James’ Park would’ve been too.
He immediately came looking for the ball, showing from throw ins and any potential balls into feet, however he was also looked willing in the other direction. I saw him busting a gut on several occasions in an attempt to make runs in behind or get into a good area in the six yard box ahead of potential crosses into the box.
He put himself about and contested for everything, putting his head on the line to draw one foul in a dangerous area late on.
I was also impressed by how mobile he looked for a big man.
He’s 6ft 3′ and a big unit known for headed goals and the ability to come alive in the box, but he looked far from slow. He’ll get better as he improves his match fitness, but he didn’t look anywhere near as off the pace as I feared he may after so long out.
It was by no means a spectacular cameo on his debut, but he played a big part in the goal (causing chaos in the box after Atsu’s cross) and looked lively.
He can’t play on Saturday at Leicester (for obvious reasons), but I’m excited to see him against Arsenal a week on Sunday. He may even start if Gayle doesn’t pull his socks up this weekend.