A DAY that was always going to be overshadowed by events concerning a £53m Italian international ended up being dominated by a player who was struggling to get a start for Sheffield Wednesday three-and-a-half seasons ago. Sandro Tonali is about to embark on a battle for his footballing career – it might have come in very different circumstances, but Jacob Murphy has already won his.

Rewind to a very different Newcastle United era, and Murphy’s time on Tyneside looked like turning out very differently. Rafael Benitez might have signed the winger from Norwich City, but he had effectively given up on him in the second half of the 2018-19 season when he loaned him to West Brom. Steve Bruce was in charge the following summer, but he didn’t rate Murphy either, shepherding him through the exit door on a season-long loan at Hillsborough.

By the time Eddie Howe was appointed, Murphy was back on Tyneside, but after starting his new boss’ first game in charge against Brentford, the 28-year-old would only be selected in the starting line-up for eight of the next 28 league matches.

Gradually, though, Murphy’s fortunes changed. Last season, he featured in 36 of Newcastle’s 38 Premier League games as either a starter or a substitute. This term, he started the Champions League game in AC Milan and Carabao Cup win over Manchester City, and on Saturday, he was handed a first league start of the campaign against Crystal Palace. Suffice to say, he delivered.

Murphy’s goal and two assists made him Man of the Match by a considerable distance as Newcastle returned to winning ways after the international break and set themselves up perfectly for Wednesday’s eagerly-awaited Champions League home game with Borussia Dortmund. Direct and inventive as he linked up superbly with right-back Kieran Trippier, Murphy was unrecognisable from the player who was so timid and unadventurous at the start of his Newcastle career.

Howe deserves huge credit for transforming Murphy and instilling the confidence that is now oozing from the winger – for all the talk of Saudi Arabian investment, the improvement in the players that were on Newcastle’s books prior to the takeover speaks volumes for Howe’s abilities as a coach – but as he tends to do, the Magpies boss was keen to turn the spotlight back onto Murphy himself. There are plenty of occasions when the boyhood Newcastle fan could easily have admitted defeat. Instead, he backed himself to come good and doubled down on his work on the training ground to try to ensure the alteration happened.


“You’re going to have some good days and you’re going to have some bad days,” said Howe. “I always say that the key response is how you handle the bad days. Before I came here, Jacob had some difficult moments, but you have to keep coming back. You have to be really resilient, you have to keep turning up, and I believe that if you do the right things off the pitch, then eventually you’ll show the right things on the pitch.

“For me, he’s just been that model of consistency in his approach and attitude. It’s great to see someone who puts that work in rewarded with an opportunity, and then it’s all about taking that opportunity. He’s done that, and it’s great to see.”

Like Jamaal Lascelles, Sean Longstaff and Elliot Anderson before him, Murphy is the latest player dispelling the notion that this is a Newcastle squad that lacks depth. With Harvey Barnes unlikely to be available until the end of the year and Tonali facing a ban that is likely to stretch to around 12 months, Newcastle’s resources in midfield and the wide-attacking positions continue to be challenged. In Murphy, though, Howe can call on a player who is currently playing at the peak of his powers.

“You need that squad,” said Howe. “We were well aware going into the season the amount of games we were going to have and the schedule we were going to have to negotiate. There was always the possibility of injuries and suspensions, and we’ve already seen that happen.

“In the short period of time we’ve had this season, we’ve already seen it’s going to be a huge physical demand. You have to have players waiting, and the key thing is that while they might be waiting, they have to be ready. Jacob is always ready, and that’s the biggest compliment I can pay him.”

Murphy was certainly ready when the opening opportunity of Saturday’s game came his way in the fourth minute. Kieran Trippier fed the ball into his path from close to the right touchline, and via an improvised chipped finish, Murphy lofted the ball over Sam Johnstone and into the far corner of the net.

The winger turned provider a minute before the interval, delivering an inviting cross from the right that Anthony Gordon converted with a first-time side-footed volley. Gordon had struck the crossbar from the edge of the six-yard box minutes earlier, but was not to be found wanting again.

Sixty seconds later, and Newcastle were claiming a third goal, with Longstaff pouncing on an error from the flummoxed Marc Guehi before strolling into the penalty area to slot a slick low finish past Johnstone.

Newcastle’s dominance was total, and Murphy claimed his second assist midway through the second half, picking out Callum Wilson after another break down the right and enabling Newcastle’s number nine to casually stroke home his side’s fourth goal.

“It was a really important game,” said Howe. “It can’t be overestimated how hard those games after an international break are because you haven’t had a full squad, and we’re having to manage players who have travelled a long way and had a big mental load for their country. I’m really pleased with the players’ response.”