HARVEY BARNES left the bench to score two crucial late goals. Lewis Hall provided some much-needed energy and thrust down the left-hand side. But when assessing Newcastle United’s remarkable late comeback against West Ham at the weekend, it would be wrong to downplay the impact of a third Magpies substitute, Elliot Anderson. In a slightly more understated way, the 21-year-old was just as crucial in swinging things in the Magpies’ direction.

This was supposed to be a breakout season for Anderson, the Whitley Bay-born youngster who burst onto the first-team scene last term with a series of swaggering midfield displays. Instead, in common with so many of his team-mates, his season has been ravaged by injury, in his case, a troublesome back complaint that appeared from nowhere but still managed to sideline him for four extremely frustrating months.

He returned to action as a substitute in the home win over Wolves at the start of last month, and has followed up with three more substitute displays that have been increasingly impressive in terms of the levels he has been able to reach.

Could a first start since October be in the offing against Everton this evening? It’s certainly possible given the question marks that have hung over Sean Longstaff and Joe Willock’s performances in the last few games, but even if he starts on the bench again, there is every chance Anderson will be called into action at some stage. And with nine games of the season still to go – still almost a quarter of the campaign – he should get plenty of opportunities to start making up for lost time before the end of the May.

“At the start of the season, I felt that Elliot would come into the team and have an outstanding season,” said Magpies head coach Eddie Howe. “I thought it would be his breakthrough season because during pre-season, I thought he was outstanding.

“Unfortunately, we lost him through, again, another strange injury really, but he's back and he's looked really, really good since coming back. I'm really, really pleased with him. As much as I can talk about his potential and what he can deliver, he needs to deliver it when the pressure is on, and he did (against West Ham). I thought he was sensational when he came on.”


With his bustling, all-action style and ability to carry the ball forward and drive at opposition defenders, Anderson’s skillset sets him apart from most of his fellow Newcastle midfielders.

There have been a number of occasions this season where the Magpies have lacked dynamism within their midfield mix, but that is Anderson’s forte. While others might look to pass sideways or shy away from taking risks, the academy product’s first thought tends to be to advance towards goal, as evidenced by the thrusting runs towards the box that appeared to unsettle West Ham’s defenders in the closing stages of Saturday’s game.

It is worth remembering that the England set-up fought hard to persuade Anderson to switch allegiances from Scotland earlier this season, even though the North-Easterner had represented the country of his grandmother’s birth at Under-21 level. They surely would not have done that if they did not think there was a realistic prospect of him advancing to senior international level at some stage in the future.

“He is different,” admitted Howe. “He's got that mix of technical ability, a goalscorer's mindset, he'll deliver the last pass but he's also tenacious and athletically he's very good.

“Although he's been out injured and he's sort of (taking) early steps, he's really good athletically so I hope for really big things just as long as he can stay fit.”

The return of both Anderson and Barnes has provided Howe with a timely boost as Newcastle look to finish the season strongly in order to claim a European place. Defensively, the Magpies’ squad is as threadbare as it has been all season, and Alexander Isak remains the only viable option to lead the line in attack. In midfield, though, Howe finally finds himself with choices to make, starting with the line-up that will face Everton tonight.

Saturday’s win lifted Newcastle to within a point of seventh-placed West Ham, another victory tonight would see them climb to within two points of sixth-placed Manchester United, with Erik ten Hag’s side not travelling to Chelsea until Thursday.

“There was always that feeling that the season was alive but, of course, you have to win games,” said Howe. “The more you don't win, the more the season slips away very quickly.

“We know the quality of the league and we know how difficult it is to win consistently, but that's what we're chasing now and being back at home was a big thing for us (against West Ham). Hopefully, we can back that up with another good performance.”