Will fans FINALLY learn to love Paul Dummett – after seeing Newcastle struggle without him?

Paul Dummett lies flat out on the opening day after suffering a hamstring injury
Paul Dummett lies flat out on the opening day after suffering a hamstring injury

Alan Pardew was once ridiculed for substituting one left-back for another. Rafa Benitez, unfortunately, hasn’t had that luxury this season.

Left-back has become a problem position for Newcastle United. Will the return of Paul Dummett solve that problem?

People were criticising Manquillo because he was coming from Sunderland and Liverpool and saying he hadn’t done well. But he wasn’t coming to start the season, he was coming to stay on the bench, and then, little by little, start playing more.

Rafa Benitez

Right now, manager Rafa Benitez needs Dummett back. And quickly.

Dummett pulled up seven minutes into the club’s season-opener against Tottenham Hotspur back at a sun-baked in August.

The 26-year-old knew as he lay flat on the immaculate pitch that he was facing a spell on the sidelines.

But he probably didn’t envisage a four-month spell in the treatment room.

It’s now winter, and Dummett, finally, is nearing a return.

Javier Manquillo, Chancel Mbemba and most recently Matt Ritchie have filled in in Dummett’s absence.

Manquillo, a right-back by trade, had a run in Benitez’s team.

Benitez hadn’t planned on giving Manquillo, signed from Atletico Madrid in the summer, a run in his team so early, especially out of position.

“People were criticising Manquillo because he was coming from (loans at) Sunderland and Liverpool and saying he hadn’t done well,” said Benitez. “But he wasn’t coming to start the season, he was coming to stay on the bench, and then, little by little, start playing more.”

Mbemba has also been played there. Ritchie, a winger, was fielded as a left wing-back in Saturday’s 3-1 Premier League defeat to Chelsea.

Neither player can solve the problem, whereas Dummett – who has long divided opinion among fans – is the club’s first-choice left-back.

Above all else, Dummett is a defender. And that’s what Newcastle need.

United have been vulnerate down the flanks in recent weeks – right-back DeAndre Yedlin was dropped at Stamford Bridge – and Benitez’s keennes to have Dummett back is understandable.

Dummett has been training, gingerly, for several weeks and Benitez is hopeful that he’ll be fit to face Leicester City at St James’s Park on Saturday.

Of course, Dummett has his critics – and he knows it.

“You do get a bit of grief, but I’ve just got to try and look over that and try and play the best I can,” he said last season. “The manager here’s picking me, so there’s obviously a reason why.”

Will fans finally take to Dummett?

Benitez, certainly, would like to sign another left-back, but, right now, Dummett is the best he’s got.

The boyhood Newcastle fan has seen his reputation enhanced this season without kicking a ball.

Can he take it to another level when he does return to the field?

Dummett could yet prove to be one of Benitez’s most important players.