The time has come for Newcastle United to play their best players – it would be mad not to in a Premier League relegation battle

“Play your best players.”

Newcastle United fans have been unequivocal in their message to head coach Steve Bruce following the Magpies’ 3-1 loss to Manchester United. Source: Social media – it’s all we have as an inadequate substitute to judge the audience, in the absence of a real one. Roll on May and beyond.

Not selecting Martin Dubravka, to me, shows a weakness in Bruce’s managerial game. Many may say it is one of his less glaring ones.

It takes strength of character to make a big call. And dropping largely faultless Karl Darlow for Dubravka fits in this category.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21: Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka with the New Nike match ball during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford on February 21, 2021 in Manchester, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

I’d have thrown him in as soon as he was fit. My reasoning? It’s simple. Dubravka is just better.

Darlow is much improved for his time out the team. The ex-Nottingham Forest man is a much more accomplished stopper as he steps into his thirties, than he was when trusted with the No1 jersey, metaphorically, in his mid-20s. Gone are the mistakes, the odd clanger, replaced by a solid consistency which complements his already established shot-stopping ability.

Darlow is not, however, Dubravka. The Dubravka who commands his box. The talking, organising Dubravka. The outrageous point-saving stops, one-man wall Dubravka.

Fans know it – they’ve seen it first hand – the media does, too. The players will know it – they train together every day – and so too will Bruce and his coaches, if they’re honest.

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However, Bruce has, until this week, shown no inclination he will opt for the Slovak, signed as an obvious upgrade to Darlow and others by Bruce’s predecessor ‘the mighty’ Rafa Benitez.

Maybe it has something to do with his seeming reluctance to accept the Magpies are waist deep in a relegation cesspool.

Burnley play Nick Pope. Fulham, Alphonse Areola. The time has come for Newcastle to field Dubravka, with Darlow’s glittering early season form feeling like a lifetime ago.

Bruce’s time on Tyneside has been epitomised by his flip-flopping. Change for the sake of change – the million and one formations, the baffling personnel switches.

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But this time change is good. Embrace it, it might even save you your job, and Premier League status... Oh, as well as the chances of a brighter tomorrow for the football team you not only manage, but affirm to support.

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Your support is much appreciated. Richard Mennear, Football Clubs Editor