Newcastle United had 20 players who featured in more than 10 games throughout their promotion-winning season last year. With the toils of a 38 game season, having strong options off the bench is vital to add something new and fresh to a tiring team. The re-introduction of Tommy Elphick to the matchday squad suggests that he will be given a run-out sooner rather than later.
Chris Samba’s ability to last a full 90 minutes looks mixed at best and with a hectic Christmas fixture list, having cover in this position will be crucial. The hotly tipped youngster Easah Suliman was rumoured to be given a chance of first-team involvement but it seems that Elphick is ahead of him in the pecking order.
Likewise with Henri Lansbury whose equalising strike against Leeds United capped off a fine cameo performance on his return from injury. In this form, Lansbury can give a different option to Conor Hourihane and help share the workload.
In my opinion, Lansbury still has a lot to prove that he has what it takes to become a permanent fixture on the Villa side but his display was encouraging. Having the competition for places is important not just to keep the starters on their toes but also for squad rotation and resting players.
Will the kids be trusted? Cal O’Hare wasn’t on the bench for the game against Leeds United. It seems that under Steve Bruce’s tutelage, the more experienced squad members will be given an opportunity first rather than the promising youngsters. To Bruce’s credit, he is the man who watches the players perform in training and is best placed to identify who deserves a place in the matchday squad.
There will be opportunities for the younger generation to grab first team experiences. The FA Cup home draw against Peterborough or Woking should provide a rest for the majority of the first team and enable Bruce to cast an eye over those knocking on the door to the squad.
If Elphick hasn’t featured by then, he will most likely feature here providing he is fit of course.
Rushian Hepburn-Murphy’s return to fitness is coming at an important time too. Keinan Davis will need a break from playing up top and having a recognised striker on the bench should alleviate some of the pressure on his shoulders. However, with Bruce set to buy a striker in January and with experience being promoted before youth, it may be a while before we see another youngster like Davis breakthrough.