Newcastle United midfielder reflects on 'ups and downs' under Rafa Benitez and Steve Bruce
It has been a year of highs and lows for Sean Longstaff.
Twelve months ago, he hadn’t even kicked a ball in the Premier League.
Within months, the midfielder – who made his debut on Boxing Day last year – was a fixture in the team, then managed by Rafa Benitez. Then came a season-ending knee injury, summer interest from Manchester United, the emergence of his younger brother Matty – and a frustrating three-game suspension.
It has been a stop-start campaign for Longstaff so far – and he’s keen to finally get into his stride.
“It’s been pretty crazy, a little bit up and down,” said Longstaff, who returned to Steve Bruce’s starting XI against Burnley at Turf Moor last week after Jonjo Shelvey was ruled out through injury.
“First of all, I didn’t start the season how I wanted to, but I think the last three games before my ban, I felt pretty good. It felt I was turning the corner, but unfortunately I got the red card and that got stopped in its tracks.
“It’s building again and using it as a springboard to play a few more games.”
Longstaff – who had to be patient after returning from suspension given the form of Shelvey and Isaac Hayden – didn’t have the return he was hoping for as Newcastle, 11th in the Premier League ahead of Saturday’s home game against Crystal Palace, were beaten 1-0 by Burnley.
“Obviously, I’d waited a long time to get back in,” said the 22-year-old, who is in talks over a new contract at Newcastle, having established himself at Premier League level since signing his last deal, which runs to 2022.
“You’ve got to have a bit of patience at times,” he said.
“The team was winning, so you can’t complain. Disappointing to come back in and lose, it’s never great when that happens, but it was good to finally get back out there.”
The game was decided by a Chris Wood header from a disputed corner. Bruce, United’s head coach, was unhappy with the performance of newly-promoted referee Tim Robinson in a scrappy game punctuated by fouls.
Striker Andy Carroll, also recalled to the starting XI, labelled it as a “disgusting game”.
“There was nothing in the game, to be fair,” said Longstaff. “They had a couple of chances, but so did we. We got into some pretty good positions. I can’t imagine it was the greatest game to watch.
“There was a foul in the build-up to their goal. We feel a little bit hard done by. It’s one of those things. We’ve got to move on from it and stay positive, because we’ve been playing pretty well.”
Longstaff had an enforced spell out after being sent off against Wolverhampton Wanderers at St James’s Park for a challenge on Ruben Neves in October.
Shelvey returned to the starting XI in Longstaff’s absence – and took his chance.
The 27-year-old midfielder – who had been on the bench during Longstaff’s run in the team – scored four goals from six league starts. He also took the captain’s armband after Bruce lost Jamaal Lascelles to injury.
Shelvey, playing for a new contract at Newcastle, was ruled out of the Burnley game with a calf problem, and he could also sit out the Palace fixture.
Longstaff, for his part, feels he’s now got something to “build on” after finally getting back on to the pitch.
“When the team’s winning, you can’t really complain,” said Longstaff, who started three league games alongside Matty in October.
“It’s just about staying patient, working hard every day in training and obviously hoping for an opportunity. I got one. It’s been a long time. It felt good to get 90 minutes in. Hopefully, it’s something to build on.”
Longstaff played the full 90 minutes at a wintry Turf Moor – and the run-out has set him up for the busy festive period.
The Palace game is followed by a Boxing Day away fixture against Manchester United, the club which attempted to sign Longstaff in the summer and which was beaten by a memorable goal from 19-year-old Matty earlier in the season.
“It’s been a while,” said Longstaff, who has played 710 minutes of Premier League football so far this season. “It’s always nice to get 90 minutes in. It’s up to me to build on the fitness.
“I felt pretty good out there. It’s a different type of game. There was not so much running around as there were a lot of long balls from both teams. It’s a busy period. The whole squad will be needed. Hopefully, I’ll be ready when called upon.”
Meanwhile, tickets for Newcastle's third-round FA Cup tie away to Rochdale on January 4 (12.31pm kick-off) are on sale to season-ticket holders with 20 or more loyalty points.
They are priced £27 for adults, £21 for over-65s and those aged 17-21 and £10 for under-17s. United have been given 3,200 seats at Spotland for the televised game.