Dwight Gayle's curious situation at Newcastle United
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Miguel Almiron and Matt Ritchie have been on the pitch for every minute of every game, while Jamal Lewis has played just six minutes of top-flight football.
Of the four senior players who haven’t made it on to the pitch, three of them aren’t a surprise. Martin Dubravka and Paul Dummett are injured, while Mark Gillespie is, effectively, the club’s fourth-choice goalkeeper.
So that leaves Dwight Gayle, who, again, didn’t make it off the bench on Friday night, when Newcastle came from behind to draw 1-1 with Leeds United at St James’s Park.
The absence so far of Gayle – who signed a new contract at the club in the summer – is all the more curious given that Steve Bruce has been without Callum Wilson, Newcastle’s No.9, since late last month.
Bruce pointed to his system when asked about Gayle’s situation.
"I think it's the system that we’re playing, which I’m looking at, of course,” said United’s head coach, who has been using a 5-3-2 formation.
"Dwight trains every day, he’s a great pro. He’ll be frustrated, I’m sure. Well I know, for a fact, he is, but, then again, so are 10, 12 other players. I’ve got to pick a team to win a football match, and go with a system, and he hasn’t found a way in yet.”
Newcastle, of course, are yet to win a match this season – and the club is 18th in the Premier League.
Fans, understandably, are wondering just what Gayle, signed from Crystal Palace five years ago by then-manager Rafa Benitez, has to do to find a way into a struggling team.
The club’s squad was already short of a striker following Andy Carroll’s summer departure. The 32-year-old – who left the club following the expiry of his contract – addressed his exit in an interview with Alan Shearer for The Athletic last week.
“I mean, 100% I wanted to be there,” said Carroll, who had rejoined Newcastle as a free agent in the summer of 2019. “I could’ve played more last season, I could be playing there this season.
"I’m not saying I should be playing every week, but I think I’ve still got something to give, to be part of Newcastle – or any club. I’ve still got that hunger in me.
"But the manager makes his decisions. That’s what happens in football. He had his ideas, and I wasn’t part of them.”
So what are Bruce’s ideas? The club didn’t sign a replacement for Carroll – and Bruce is yet to play his only other out-and-out striker.
"I’ve tried to sign Dwight three times – but could never afford him,” said Bruce after succeeding Benitez at Newcastle.
Admittedly, Gayle, 30, has struggled for form and fitness over the past two seasons – but can Bruce afford to ignore his claims for first-team football for too much longer?