FREDDIE WOODMAN has waited the best part of three years for an opportunity to prove himself with Newcastle United. Sadly, when it finally arrived at the start of this season, in the same way that he was unable to hold on to Mason Greenwood’s deflected shot last weekend, the 24-year-old has been unable to seize his chance with both hands.

Having struggled against West Ham on the opening day of the season, Woodman’s form dipped alarmingly in last weekend’s defeat at Manchester United, with the spillage that led to Cristiano Ronaldo’s opening goal preceding another poor moment as Woodman allowed the Portuguese forward to claim a second goal with a shot that flew through his legs.

As a result, when Leeds United visit St James’ Park tomorrow evening, Woodman is expected to find himself back on the substitutes’ bench, with Karl Darlow returning to the starting side now that the after-effects of his Covid infection have subsided.

Assuming Martin Dubravka also returns in the next couple of months, Woodman will almost certainly find himself out of the matchday squad, potentially paving the way for a permanent departure when the transfer window reopens in January. The former England Under-21 international clearly has talent, as illustrated by his successful loan spells at Swansea City. He is just unfortunate that he plays in arguably the one position where Newcastle boast an abundance of riches.

“I have to speak to the players involved,” said Bruce, when asked about the goalkeeping situation heading into tomorrow’s game. “It’s arguably the hardest part of management. I’ve got 20-odd players and can only pick 11, so usually 11 or 12 are disappointed.

“It’s my job to make those big calls, and I will do. I’ve got to make that decision (who starts in goal), but when I do make that decision, it’s vitally important that I let the players know first.”

Callum Wilson, Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Dummett will all miss tomorrow evening’s game, although Joe Willock and Ryan Fraser are both available after shaking off their respective injury issues.

Wilson’s thigh injury continues to be a major concern, and while Bruce is refusing to put a timescale on the striker’s potential return, there is a chance he could be sidelined until the next international break, meaning he would also miss this month’s games against Watford and Wolves.

“Unfortunately, it’s too quick for Callum,” said Bruce. “And it’s also too quick for Jonjo and Paul Dummett. We’re not going to put a time on it with Callum. He’s making good progress, but unfortunately this week, he’s not made it.”

Willock’s availability is a plus, with the summer signing having shaken off the knock that forced his substitution against Manchester United, and Bruce has also welcomed Fraser back into the fold after the forward completed his recovery from an injury sustained while away with Scotland.

“Ryan has trained all week and he’s okay,” confirmed the Newcastle boss. “Everybody has come through from the weekend. We had one or two knocks towards the end, but thankfully everybody is okay so that’s good. Ciaran (Clark) and Joe had knocks, but they’re okay.”

Leeds have availability issues of their own, with centre-halves Diego Llorente and Pascal Struijk both unavailable and their potential replacement, Robin Koch, also a major doubt.

Marcelo Bielsa’s side did the double over Newcastle last season, and like the majority of his Premier League peers, Bruce has nothing but the utmost respect for Leeds’ Argentinian manager.

“When I took Sheffield Wednesday to Leeds a few years ago, I witnessed the first hand the change (under Bielsa), he said. “I saw a group of players who had been in and around that league for a long time, and the impact of what the manager had done, I hadn’t seen anything like that."

Newcastle (probable, 5-3-2): Darlow; Murphy, Fernandez, Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie; Almiron, Hayden, Willock; Saint-Maximin, Joelinton.