This is what Nabil Bentaleb told Sean Longstaff about Newcastle United ups and downs
After the team’s evening meal at Newcastle United’s hotel in Oxford, Sean Longstaff had a chat with Nabil Bentaleb. They talked. And talked.
The two midfielders spoke for an hour and a half. They had shared experiences to talk about. Longstaff – who has had to contend with injuries and speculation about his future since making his Premier League debut last season – is experiencing things that Bentaleb went through as a young player at Tottenham Hotspur.
Longstaff had to contend with lows as well as highs in what he himself has described as a “crazy” 12 months.
Bentaleb, signed on loan from Schalke 04 last month, had some wise words for Longstaff, who would go on to score his first goal of the season – and set up another – the following night as Newcastle progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time in 14 years thanks to a 3-2 extra-time win over Oxford United.
The shackles were off, and Longstaff, fielded further up the pitch against the League One club by Steve Bruce, enjoyed the freedom he was given at the Kassam Stadium.
“It’s a bit funny,” said Longstaff, who was the subject of interest from Manchester United last summer. “After food I spoke with Nabil for an hour and and a half when he was at Tottenham and in a similar position in terms of everything that was going on around him. He was able to give some great advice. I really appreciated that.
“He said ‘you’ve got to put everything aside and, at the end of the day, concentrate on football, because it doesn’t last forever’, and it really stuck with us. I played a little bit more freely, so hopefully it’s the start of something.”
Asked if he was finally getting back to his best, Longstaff said: “I hope so. At times I feel I’ve done all right in some games, but it’s been the consistency that’s killed us.
“Results in games have probably made it look a little worse than it has been, but I’m never going to get too up and down about it. I’m a young lad still learning my trade.”
Longstaff opened the scoring at the Kassam Stadium with a right-footed effort, and then set up Newcastle’s second, scored by Joelinton, with a well-executed ball over the top.
The goal came as a relief to Longstaff, a technically-gifted player who has always prided himself on his goalscoring.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “You see everyone scoring around you, and you sometimes think to yourself ‘is one every going to come my way?’. It’s a start. It’s probably going to give us a little confidence boost. I’ll be working hard again and trying to do it in the league.”
The fourth-round replay was eventually decided by a strike from Allan Saint-Maximin in the 116th-minute after Oxford netted two late goals to take the game into extra time.
“On the overall balance of play, apart from probably the last 10 minutes of the second half and first 10 minutes of extra time when they were much better than us, I thought we were pretty good,” said Longstaff, whose younger brother Matty was also in the starting XI against Oxford.
“I thought Joe was outstanding with Miggy (Almiron) at the top of the pitch and cause them a lot of problems. We looked really comfortable. We got the two early goals, from then on didn’t have a lot of chances to kill the game. I had one or two, and probably should’ve scored.
“I shows the character we’ve got in the dressing room. A lot of people are probably saying we should’ve come to Oxford and beat them 6-0, but that’s just not football and unrealistic, to be honest. The main thing was getting through and we’ve been able to do that.”
Longstaff left the stadium, the scene of a fourth-round defeat for the club three years ago, with the man of the match award.
“It’s been a while,” said Longstaff, whose representatives held talks with the club over a new deal last year. “The main thing was getting through. It wasn’t something I was looking for. I just wanted to go out there and enjoy it and play with a bit of freedom, play with a smile on my face.
“It’s funny what happens when you play with that mindset and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. With no disrespect, it is against Oxford, and they are a good side, but hopefully it gives a bit of confidence going into the league games.”
Bruce, Newcastle’s head coach, gave his jaded and bruised players a few days off after the replay, which fell in the first week of the Premier League’s winter break.
“It’s been tough, really tough,” said Longstaff. “The way we played it’s been really tough. The way we play, we’ve got to get around the pitch a lot. It’s a lot of defending and running.
“Hopefully, when we come back we’re going to have a few bodies back as well, which is always a massive boost. Everyone’s looking forward to that. They’re going to go away and enjoy the little break that we’ve got.
“Going away on the back of a win is much better. We can enjoy the we’ve got off and come back refreshed for the rest of the season.”