Newcastle United striker Dwight Gayle must question Steve Bruce’s tactics after being left a passenger of Friday night’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa.
Bruce recalled Gayle to the Magpies starting line-up for the visit of Dean Smith’s side to St James’ Park, having only opted to name the 31-year-old as a substitute for his last three Premier League squads.
However, the forward’s return did not come in his natural and preferred central position, with Gayle instead forced into occupying a role on the left wing in the absence of Allan Saint-Maximin after the Frenchman sustained a groin injury and was ruled out until April.
Gayle kept pushing to try and influence proceedings against Aston Villa but rarely managed to deliver a key impac, in what was only his second start of the season across all competitions, having missed the beginning of the campaign with a medial collateral ligament injury.
Being played out of position further meant Gayle rarely got on the ball in dangerous positions, was unable to get on the end of crosses into the Villans’ box and often cut a frustrated figure yards from Emiliano Martinez’s area.
Changes were made at the break with Gayle moving into a false nine role and Ryan Fraser shifted onto the wing in a direct swap from the first half, yet Bruce’s switch still continued to see the £40,000-per-week striker occupy positions too far from goal to cause any real problems.
Of Gayle’s 27 touches registered on Friday night, only three came inside the Villa box, with three taken on the edge of the area and seven in United territory, per WhoScored. Jacob Murphy, who came on in the 79th minute, registered four touches in Martinez’s box, while Fraser took five and Joelinton registered six.
It was a similar story for Gayle against Chelsea when fielded on the right wing during his first start of the season last month, as the London-born forward could only register one of his 16 touches inside Kepa Arrizabalaga’s penalty area at Stamford Bridge.
Gayle’s difficulties in adapting to a wide or false nine role were further hammered home in how little he could produce against Aston Villa, with the £7.2m-rated striker completing just 14 of his 17 passes – only Emil Krafth (13) completed fewer among those who started for Newcastle, per Sofascore.
Goalkeeper Martin Dubravka completed 17 of his 29 attempted passes against Aston Villa for the third-least among those who opened the action for the Toon. Only Bertrand Traore (6), who came off in the 21st minute; Morgan Sanson (9), who came on in the 59th; and Martinez (12) completed fewer passes than Gayle for the away side, per Sofascore.
Similarly against Chelsea, Gayle completed just six of his eight passes before being taken off in the 64th minute, which was the least achieved by any player for either side who started at Stamford Bridge.
Gayle must be questioning what more he has to do for Bruce to realise that he is not accustomed to occupying a deep or wide role and that he should be deployed as an out-and-out centre-forward, as the Toon coach’s current system is not working for him at all.