Steve Bruce must unleash Jeff Hendrick in a central midfield role when Newcastle United host Fulham on Saturday, after Sean Longstaff totally crumbled at Leeds on Wednesday night.
Longstaff was entrusted with opening the Elland Road affair alongside Isaac Hayden in the engine room with Jonjo Shelvey falling to the bench, yet failed to live up to his task in a torrid night for the Toon product.
Newcastle were at sixes and sevens throughout the game but found themselves still in the battle at 2-2 midway through the second half, only for Longstaff to dally in possession and gift the Whites a chance to break.
Mateusz Klich eventually delivered a teasing ball into Karl Darlow’s area that found its way through to Stuart Dallas, who darted in unchecked to head home the catalyst for a 13-minute blitz that would leave the Magpies humbled.
Longstaff’s confidence was shattered from the moment he let the ball slip from his grasps, and never managed to recover before the full-time whistle to round out another disappointing display from the Toon product.
It was not the only occasion Longstaff gifted possession away, either, with the 23-year-old losing the ball 15 times, per SofaScore, while winning just two ground duels, making one successful tackle and completing 20 of his 29 passes having failed to connect with any of his eight long balls.
Hendrick had been fielded in a right-midfield role as Bruce sought to rotate parts of his side at Elland Road and brought an impact to the position, despite often being starved of possession with just 24 touches while shackled into aiding Jacob Murphy defensively.
The summer arrival from Burnley recorded a heavy amount of his 24 touches beside Newcastle’s right-hand corner flag, penned four clearances and blocked one shot, yet managed to fire home the 26th-minute opener with his sole effort of the game.
But pace was an issue for Hendrick going forward, and must be moved back centrally after earning five of his previous nine Premier League appearances in the middle of midfield.
Bruce has always imagined Hendrick, who he considers to be a “big asset”, playing in both roles, having noted earlier in the year how the 28-year-old’s flexibility would be put to use.
“His flexibility, probably, is the reason why he doesn’t [always] play centrally,” said Bruce, via quotes by The Shields Gazette. “He’s played for us on the right, and did that very well.
“Look, he’s quietly gone about his work. That’s the sort of character he is. He’s done very well for us. I’ve been very, very pleased with him.”
Though Wednesday’s thumping at Elland Road proved it is time to take Longstaff out of the line-up, and unleash Hendrick centrally in Saturday’s meeting with Fulham.