The surprise Newcastle United tactical calls made by Eddie Howe amid Jacob Murphy scrutiny
There was a surprise or two in Eddie Howe’s starting XI at Craven Cottage.
They would get to see Wilson make his comeback, but Saint-Maximin, “close” to a return from injury, wasn’t involved.
Instead, Howe fielded Jacob Murphy on the left in a surprise move.
And the move was greeted by some scepticism on social media by supporters, looking for their team to end a six-game run without a Premier League win, when the teamsheet was revealed an hour before kick-off time.
Murphy’s inclusion drew the most scrutiny. However, the decision to field Murphy ahead of Ryan Fraser and Elliot Anderson would stand up to scrutiny.
Newcastle, helped by an early dismissal, dominated the game from start to finish – and won 4-1. Howe’s team arguably should have won by a greater margin, but United’s head coach, mindful of the club’s injury record so far this season, withdrew Wilson and Bruno Guimaraes in the second half. He also made a late triple substitution.
Murphy, certainly, played his part, though the headlines belonged to left-footed Miguel Almiron, who netted two goals from the other flank. Howe also highlighted the contribution of midfielder Joe Willock.
Murphy, in different positions, played very well,” said Howe after the game. “I thought he was electric. Joe Willock, yeah he was unlucky not to score but I thought he was behind a lot of our good play. Delighted with both of them.”
Howe had also recalled Sean Longstaff to his starting XI, and the assumption in the press room before the game was that he would play in a more defensive midfield role, allowing Guimarares to get higher up the pitch.
Guimaraes, however, again played as the deepest midfielder, though he was able to get forward.
Asked if he’d wanted to push Guimaraes higher, Howe said: “Obviously, playing in that slightly deeper role, that’s where he started, but the game (Fulham going down to 10 men) allowed him to play higher.
“We obviously want him to affect the game higher. He’s so good – the pass for Miggy’s goal is a good example of what he can deliver for us.
“But there’s a balance, because he’s also very good at building attacks and starting them.
“Also, defensively, he’s very good as well. It’s trying to get him a position where you see his strengths – and today he was able to do that.”
One thing that particularly pleased Howe was the reaction of his team to the dismissal and Wilson’s early goal.
"We were determined not to allow the game to become slow and stagnate – that’s the challenge,” said Howe.
“It’s very difficult, because you’re expected to then take the game and create chances. It’s not always easy as it appears.
“I think the goals come at a good time for us, and they enabled us to play with that freedom and expression in the second-half. I’m slightly disappointed we didn’t add more goals, but today’s not a day for negatives – it’s a very positive day for us.”
And one of those positives was the contribution of Murphy, a squad player who came into the team – and did a job for Howe.