It’s been a year since Rafael Benitez handed a Premier League debut to young central midfielder Sean Longstaff. The then 21-year-old was an almost instant hit in the first team, with his passing range and defensive work rate gaining the admiration of the fan base.
Following his debut on Boxing Day last season down at Anfield, Longstaff’s career trajectory went from zero to 100 in no time. He went from the odd appearance on the bench, to starting most games. This opportunity was one afforded to him due to the mounting injury list in the middle of the park – one of those instances where bad luck turns into a stroke of fortune.
He made his full Premier League debut against Chelsea in a 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge, before cementing his place in the midfield alongside Isaac Hayden. The pair impressed alongside one another – so much so that Pep Guardiola singled them out for praise following NUFC’s stunning 2-1 home victory over the eventual champions back in January.
He scored two goals in that season, one against Blackburn in an FA Cup third round replay, and the other came against Burnley in the league in a 2-0 win – although that one was perhaps overshadowed by a sublime Fabian Schar effort. After that, he’d only play one more game in the 2018/19 season, an away match at West Ham wherein he was subbed off at half-time with a season ending knee injury.
This season, fans were excited to see him back in action with a new manager at the helm in Steve Bruce – it’s fair to say we were all a little uncertain with what to expect from him this term. Sean’s younger brother Matty was also promoted to the first team squad for this season and on October 6th, the brothers started alongside each other at St James’ Park for the visit of Manchester United.
Sean cut the more composed figure in the centre of the park, dictating the tempo – while Matty’s infectious energy and work rate drove the team forward. In what was an incredibly special moment for the Longstaff family, Matty smashed home a fantastic winner late on to send SJP into pandemonium. To add the cherry on top of the cake, Matty and Sean were interviewed after the game wherein a very proud Sean waxed lyrical about his brother, before handing the man of the match award.
Since then, it’s been pretty tough going for Sean. Just two games after the Man United match, Longstaff was sent off late on against Wolves for a dangerous tackle and missed three matches due to suspension. Thanks to the form of Jonjo Shelvey, it’s been tough for Longstaff to re-enter the fray following his ban.
He was, however, given an opportunity to play last week as the Magpies visited Burnley. With Shelvey carrying a knock, Bruce thought it presented a good opportunity for Longstaff to make his mark on the team once more – but the youngster struggled consistently throughout the match.
Newcastle play host to Crystal Palace this weekend and the fitness of Shelvey is still, in the managers words, “50/50”. Should Shelvey not make it, Longstaff will likely be given another chance to make that starting spot his own – in front of his home crowd, he’ll be desperate to take it.
All-in-all, it’s been a very decent first year as a senior professional footballer for Sean Longstaff. There’s been some incredible moments, a few memories to last a lifetime and even talk of a £50m move to Manchester United. For now though, he’s very content on Tyneside and hopefully, he’ll continue to get better and better.