The talented Newcastle United player warming Geordie hearts – two years after being frozen out by Steve Bruce
Back then, the midfielder couldn’t have imagined scoring the goals which would take the club to Wembley in front of a red hot atmosphere at St James's Park.
Steve Bruce was head coach in January 2021, and Longstaff was seemingly made the fall guy for what was a damaging 1-0 behind-closed-doors loss to a previously-winless team which had left the club 19th in the Premier League.
Longstaff, by no means, was the worst performer that night, but it would be more than two months before he was again seen in a Newcastle shirt.
The midfielder later reflected on a “frustrating” spell on the sidelines which “could have gone one of two ways”.
“Obviously, I have my own views on it, and whether I feel it was right or wrong, (but) it doesn’t really matter,” said Longstaff last year. “All you can do is keep yourself ready.
"I know that in the two months between starts, I trained really well – probably the best I've trained in the last two years, I would say.
"I know it could have gone one of two ways; either me sort of sack it off – which isn’t the type of person I am, the way I’ve been brought up, or how I do things – or focusing on myself, setting myself little targets every day, and ultimately training to the best of my ability, forcing them to give me a chance.”
Back to his best
Longstaff eventually forced his way back into Bruce’s team, though he would not get back his best until this season.
The 25-year-old, a powerful, hard-running midfielder with a good range of passing, has been a fixture in Howe’s side this season in the absence of the injured Jonjo Shelvey, who this week left for Nottingham Forest.
Longstaff has been playing in a midfield three anchored by Bruno Guimaraes this season.
And, following on from Blyth-born Dan Burn’s Carabao Cup quarter-final winner against Leicester City, it was maybe fitting that the Geordie – whose brother Matty is also on United’s books – scored the two goals against Southampton on Tuesday night which, ultimately, saw the club reach its first final in almost 24 years thanks to a 3-1 aggregate win.
“Sean’s just a really level-headed lad,” said Eddie Howe, who quickly recognised Longstaff’s potential after taking charge in late 2021.
“He loves the club, he’s Newcastle through and through. I’m so pleased that he’s got the headlines. His two goals were great finishes. His all-round performances this season have been excellent.
“He’s getting the rewards for what I saw last year. He didn’t play for me initially, but behind the scenes I saw a player that was really committed to his training, really wanted to improve. Delighted now he’s getting the rewards for that.”
Trust is earned
Longstaff, handed his first senior chance by Rafa Benitez in the 2018/19 season, “earned the trust” of Howe on the training pitch.
“He has (become integral to the team), and he’s done that all by himself,” said Howe, who ensured that Longstaff got the senior contract he deserved last May.
“He’s earned that trust from me. I trust him in all phases of the game – that’s attacking, defending.
“I’m really pleased that he’s got the goals that his performances have deserved. He’s missed a few chances in previous weeks, but that’s never an issue with me as long as you’re doing the right things, and he has been.
“I’m so pleased he’s getting praised externally, because internally, we know how good he is. But, externally, it’s great that people are starting to see it too.”
Howe believes that Longstaff can regularly find the net.
"He’s pivotal,” added Howe. “I think he's an excellent player, and adding goals will only improve other people's awareness of that. He's been great this season.
"I've always believed he's an excellent finisher, and converting that to a game is difficult. I always believe if you get in the right areas, it will come together – and he did that."
There was a strong Geordie contingent in Howe’s squad for the Southampton game.
Burn was also in the starting XI, while Elliot Anderson came off the bench. Paul Dummett was also a substitute, while Mark Gillespie was in the matchday squad.
Asked if it was important to have a strong local contingent in his squad, Howe said: “Absolutely.
“I’m a strong believer in that. I’m a strong believer in local players coming through the system. They understand the club. They understand the feeling of the club.
“The guys in particular, and Mark Gillespie, represent the club in such a good way, and also educate the new players coming in, and I think that’s such an important process.
“You can’t keep players from the local area if they’re not good enough, we’re at an elite level, but, certainly, it’s my wish that that remains the same.”
Longstaff has let his feet do the talking this season, but he didn’t follow in Burn’s footsteps and dance in the dressing room after the game.
Asked if he had turned down the opportunity to dance, Howe said: “Yes he did – and quite wise too! I would do the same if I was him.”
The hope on Tyneside is that Longstaff and all of his team-mates – along with almost 33,000 fans – will dancing at Wembley the night of February 26.