If Carlsberg did football weeks it might well have just drafted NUFC a one last week! Ok, so the takeover didn’t happen, but in all other aspects it was pretty near perfect.
Three quality Premier League additions added to the mighty Jeff Hendrick and one a striker who scores on his debut. A clean sheet, two goals away from home – both scored by new signings – and a three-point start for the first time since 2012!
All of which does give Mr Bruce a dilemma for tomorrow night against Blackburn, however.
Now, he’ll want to make sure we win, of that there’s no doubt, for two reasons. One to progress – we play Morecambe or Oldham if we emerge victorious – and two to keep the momentum going.
‘Wholesale changes’ are coming if his Monday morning press conference is anything to go by. He’ll want to give some of those that didn’t play much or at all on Saturday a game, saying some are ‘itching to play’, and he may also freshen it up to make sure our big guns are fit and ‘at it’ for this weekend’s first home game of the league season against Brighton.
So, who plays? Well, he’s already made it clear that Ryan Fraser will make his debut, while Ciaran Clark has also been declared fit and looks set to start after over half a year on the sidelines.
Then there’s Joelinton, who needs minutes and confidence after missing a big chunk of our pre-season. He may well start up top given Carroll and Wilson look set to play again on Saturday, Gayle is injured and Muto close to a loan move to Eibar. Next to the Brazilian could then be Miguel Almiron, who was unlucky to be benched at West Ham but soon made an impact when he came on, causing havoc with his pace and setting up Hendrick’s goal.
Jacob Murphy could yet leave before next month’s deadline, but he deserves a chance to show what he can do – whether that be an audition for our first-team or to put himself in the shop window after a lively pre-season.
Another in a similar boat is talented local lad Dan Barlaser. His quality on the ball was there for all to see in recent friendlies, but he’s another who is no longer a youngster and needs regular game time. Perhaps he, like Murphy, will be given one last chance to impress here before Bruce makes a final decision on his future?
I can also see Sean Longstaff partnering him in the middle of the park, with Matty injured and midfield trio Shelvey, Hayden and Hendrick likely to be rested after a big effort on Saturday.
Emil Krafth seems likely to replace the much improved Manquillo at right-back (Yedlin is an option but he seems to be third choice these days) and Matt Ritchie may fill in at left-back if fit, with Lewis likely to be saved for Saturday and Dummett still sidelined. If Ritchie still has a knock or isn’t deemed ready to feature after recent links to Bournemouth, Yedlin could fill in at left-back. Not ideal, but he was spotted playing there in pre-season.
In goal, Bruce may well look to keep Darlow sharp in Dubravka’s absence, however this may be the perfect time to give Mark Gillespie some minutes – especially when we’re just one more injury away from him starting in the league!
Have we suddenly stumbled on strength in depth? Can we afford to be optimistic or should we not get carried away after one win against a team whose club almost seems in more disarray than ours.
It’s always difficult as a NUFC not to be over optimistic when things look good and over pessimistic when things look bad. We should probably just enjoy the moment and have that hope in our hearts. But then again this is NUFC and we it can disappear as fast as it appears.
I hope the three Steve’s sit down and look at the Blackburn game with positivity and nothing more than planning to get a win.
If we do it with “back-up” players with a point to prove and not our strongest side then so be it, but we have to go for the win and nothing less to keep the momentum going!