Steve Bruce must strive to better utilise Jacob Murphy after the Newcastle winger’s influential cameo performance against Aston Villa in Friday night’s 1-1 draw.
Murphy had started the match on the bench as he continues to serve a bit-part role for the Magpies, having not started a Premier League game since January’s 2-1 loss to Leeds United.
The Whites’ visit to St. James’ Park marks Murphy’s only start across all competitions this calendar year, and was followed by the 26-year-old being omitted from three squads and being left an unused substitute on two of five possible occasions.
Bruce only gave Murphy the final 11 minutes of normal time against Aston Villa to prove that he deserves a greater share of the action on Tyneside, but was made to look naïve for overlooking his services so often.
With the deadlock yet to be broken, Bruce introduced Murphy in place of Ryan Fraser and soon saw the £3.15m-rated dynamo rattle the crossbar when his shot curled onto the woodwork after twisting smartly to shrug off Douglas Luiz.
Villa took the lead shortly afterwards through Ollie Watkins, who steered his header past Martin Dubravka via a cruel deflection off Ciaran Clark, but Murphy refused to let the fortuitous goal break Newcastle’s spirit and went on to set up Jamaal Lascelles’ stoppage-time equaliser.
Aston Villa gave Murphy all the time in the world to pick out where to cross the ball from the left-hand corner and he found Lascelles on the edge of the six-yard box to powerfully head home and snatch what could be a vital point in Newcastle’s fight for Premier League survival.
Murphy had come close to having his assist moments earlier when the winger easily ran past Matt Target and into Emiliano Martinez’s area, but Dwight Gayle could only flick his cutback into the Argentine’s hand before the Villans scrambled clear the danger.
Bruce should not have been surprised to see Murphy offer a creative touch in the dying stages, as the summer free agent almost set Joelinton up to win it against Wolverhampton Wanderers last month, only for Romain Saiss to bundle the Brazilian’s effort over the bar.
Like against Targett on Friday, Murphy made a great run before cutting the ball back into the area to meet a wide-open Joelinton on the penalty spot, only for Saiss to save Wolves a point as the Newcastle striker was unable to convert a glaring opportunity to score.
Despite his creativity, Murphy – who Noel Whelan has lauded as “a fantastic player” – was left an unused substitute for last Sunday’s goalless draw with West Bromwich Albion and in the dugout for much of Friday’s meeting with Aston Villa.
However, Bruce’s decision to leave Murphy out of the starting line-up against Dean Smith’s Villans was made to appear foolish, as he earned SofaScore’s highest match rating at 8.2 out of 10 thanks to creating each of his side’s two big chances to score.
He further won each of his three ground duels and two attempted dribbles, more than Gayle (2 duels won, zero dribbles) achieved throughout the full 90 minutes having started the game on the left wing before a move into the centre for the second half, per SofaScore.
Bruce must now look to unleash Murphy from the off when United visit fellow strugglers Brighton and Hove Albion next weekend in what will be a crucial six-pointer for both teams’ hopes of staying in the Premier League.