Florian Lejeune watch: How Newcastle United defender fared on his comeback in front of Rafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez was back at work just over 24 hours after watching his Newcastle United side fall to a seventh defeats in nine home games against Wolves.
The Spaniard and a number of his coaching staff were at Whitley Park on Monday night as the Magpies Under-23’s came from behind to beat Norwich City to extend their impressive recent form.
The likes of Sean Longstaff, Callum Roberts and Elias Sorensen would have been hoping to catch Benitez’s eye as the United boss prepares his squad for a hectic festive schedule.
But it was the comeback of Florian Lejeune that would have given the Magpies boss more than good reason to smile as he left the game midway through the second-half.
The French defender played the opening 45 minutes of the 2-1 win over the Canaries and he showed no ill-effects of the knee ligament injury that has limited him to just one pre-season appearance this season.
It was a welcome boost for Benitez and all connected with the club after a nervous defensive display played a part in their defeat against Wolves on Sunday.
Lejeune displayed all of the attributes that saw him become a popular figure in his maiden season on Tyneside.
The former Eibar centre-back partnered stand-in captain Kelland Watts at the heart of the young Magpies’ defence and looked calm and assured during the opening stages of the game to help keep a lively Canaries attack at bay.
But Lejeune could do little to prevent Ben Dawson’s side falling behind on 20 minutes as striker Anthony Spyrou flicked a ball behind Watts to allow midfielder Simon Power to race through on goal and stroke the ball past United keeper Nathan Harker.
One of the highlights of Lejeune’s displays last season was his ability to start attacks from his position in defence.
Midway through the first-half he attempted a long pass to release Sorensen to get in behind the visitors defence.
But the in-form Danish striker inexplicably gave up the chase for the pass, much to the annoyance of several of his team-mates.
Lejeune looked powerful in the air, winning several headers comfortably and showed his strength to muscle Canaries striker Spyrou off the ball as the half came to a close.
The duo were to have one more contest before the interval and it was one that will have shown Benitez that his £8.7m defender is closer to a Premier League comeback than some would suggest.
The pacey Spyrou seemed to have escaped the attentions of Lejeune as he broke into the left-hand side of the United area.
But the Frenchman showed a burst of pace to get in front of the striker and block his attempted cross.
The appearance of United substitute Stefan O’Connor undergoing a rigorous warm-up at half-time seemed to indicate that Lejeune’s work was done.
He was replaced by the former Arsenal defender during the interval but his cool, calm and assured display will have warmed Benitez as he drove away from Whitley Park on a cold Monday night.
A starting place may have to wait for the time being, but Lejeune has shown that he is ready to play a part in United’s festive fixture list.