Steve Bruce played a blinder against Tottenham Hotspur by unleashing Newcastle United midfielder Jacob Murphy at right-wing-back.
Murphy had not opened a Premier League fixture in the Toon’s last nine games and only featured as a substitute on four occasions in that run.
When he had been called on, Murphy also took up attacking positions with the 26-year-old tasked with offering width against Wolverhampton Wanderers after Allan Saint-Maximin was forced off with a groin injury.
Murphy also came off the bench with less than 10 minutes on the clock against Aston Villa last month, which was enough to see the £25,000-per-week gem twist and turn his way into Emiliano Martinez’s box before crashing his shot against the crossbar.
The missed chance failed to dent Murphy’s confidence and he soon set Jamaal Lascelles’ up to equalise, yet was left on the bench against Brighton & Hove Albion before the international break and instructed to add defensive resilience against Spurs on Sunday.
But Bruce’s decision to recall Murphy to the Magpies’ starting line-up for the first time since losing 2-1 at home to Leeds United in January proved genius, as the £3m-rated maestro – who is set to be out of contract in the summer – absolutely thrived.
Murphy displayed undiluted grit to fight for the shirt up against Harry Kane, Lucas Moura and Sergio Reguilon, which was all too often lacking from the Toon in their dismal 3-0 humbling at relegation-rivals Brighton last month.
“Jacob Murphy [was] outstanding for Newcastle at right-wing-back,” The Times’ Chief Football Writer Henry Winter noted on Twitter after the game. “[He] ran himself into the ground, defending/attacking. His resilience echoed all over.”
The former England U21 international was eventually replaced in the 83rd minute by Javier Manquillo having developed cramp, which was not too unexpected given the performance he delivered and his lack of minutes in recent months.
Murphy has experience of playing at right-wing-back this season having been called on to play in defence on five occasions in the Premier League, but had not featured in the role since Newcastle were beaten 5-2 at Leeds in December.
He was unable to stop the Whites from thriving on their left-hand channel that day and appeared to duck out of the away when Jack Harrison delivered the cross for his side’s third goal.
Yet it was a very different Murphy on show this Sunday against Spurs, as he won a whopping 10 ground duels, made five successful tackles and created two goalscoring opportunities, per SofaScore.
Murphy has only averaged 3.6 ground duels won per Premier League game this season, along with 1.1 tackles and 0.7 key passes, but excelled to end the day with two more successful tackles to his name than any other player.
Jonjo Shelvey and Emil Krafth also registered two key passes, but no United player won as many ground duels as Murphy, either, with Miguel Almiron the second-most successful player in black and white after winning seven.
Moura won seven of his ground duels for Tottenham, while Kane could only win one and Reguilon won three as they often found the Toon’s right-wing a challenge to break through.
Bruce will surely have been delighted with Murphy’s performance, and feel that his decision to recall the winger in defence was vindicated.