Steve Bruce must axe Jeff Hendrick from his Newcastle United starting line-up after the midfielder’s midweek horror show in Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat at Sheffield United.
The 28-year-old was given what has now proven to be a rare Premier League start for the trip to Bramall Lane, having featured in just two of the Magpies’ prior eight top-flight fixtures.
It was the first time since November’s 2-0 defeat at Southampton that Bruce also fielded Hendrick in a central position, yet he was only made to regret his decision to leave Matty Longstaff on the bench for the first time in a month in favour of the former Burnley man.
Hendrick proved an invisible figure throughout his time on the field in South Yorkshire, where it was miraculous Bruce never chose to withdraw the £8m-rated midfielder who lacked any real urgency and often struggled to cope with any pressure from the Blades.
It was not until the closing stages of the second period that Hendrick managed to leave even a slight mark on proceedings when his whipped cross found Callum Wilson in the box, only for the £20m summer signing to head straight at Aaron Ramsdale and squander a second big chance of the night.
Hendrick’s performance was a distant cry from the levels expected of him when he was unveiled in the summer as a free transfer following his Burnley exit, with Bruce backing the £40,000-per-week Republic of Ireland international to be a valuable player.
“He’s an experienced international footballer who can play all across the midfield, so we welcome him aboard. He’ll be a big asset to us on and off the pitch,” Bruce said at the time (Belfast Telegraph).
“He’s a great pro, down to earth, and at the age of 28, it’s a wonderful time to get somebody. It is the peak of his career – he’s a really fit boy who has played 122 times in the Premier League for Burnley over the last four years, and I’m sure he’ll be a great addition to the squad.”
Bruce, despite those comments at the time of his arrival, cannot have taken any pride in the performance of Hendrick at Sheffield United, and he must now axe the Derby County product once again when Newcastle visit Arsenal on Monday night, where they’ll be looking to end a six Premier League game winless run.
It proved a major flaw to start Hendrick at Bramall Lane, where he could only offer one key ball from 32 accurate passes, make no successful tackles, attempt no shots and he delivered a single cross, per SofaScore, even after Ryan Fraser saw red to leave the Magpies starved of width on his side of the field.
Quite simply, the eye test showed that the Irishman had a poor game in Sheffield and the stats back that up.
If Newcastle are to now upset the odds and claim a rare win at Arsenal on Monday, after the FA Cup exit earlier this month made it 15 defeats in their last 18 meetings against the Gunners across all competitions, Bruce must chase the result without Hendrick in the side.
If he can’t play well against a team who hadn’t won a single game all season, then the chances of him doing well against Arsenal just a few days later are very, very slim so Bruce needs to put him back on the bench.