Longstaff is 19 and had not been anywhere near Bruce’s Premier League side before this. He had played once, in the EFL Cup. His brother Sean – two years is senior – has become a fixture in this team but Matty has had to wait. That he was chosen here was due largely to circumstances. Bruce’s midfield has been hit by injury, suspension and dreadful form.
So this looked a little more desperate than romantic but who cares about that after Lonsgtaff capped an afternoon of hard graft and endeavour to score the picture book goal that neither he or his manager will ever forget? What a goal it was, too.
Newcastle – so wretched in losing 5-0 at Leicester last week – had actually been forthright and dangerous on the break all afternoon and when Allan Saint-Maximin led another gallop from deep with 18 minutes left, spaces opened up in front of the Gallowgate End. Saint-Maximin had options left and right but went left to the wing-back Jetro Willems. He, too, had choices but one stood out above the others.
Longstaff was coming like a train from deep and when Willems laid the ball in to his path, he struck it purely and powerfully low to David de Gea’s right from 20 yards. The goalkeeper never had a prayer. Predictably, the roof almost came off this wonderful old place. For a second, if only for a second, it even stopped raining. Newcastle had been threatening something like this on the break all afternoon but Longstaff would probably have been some way down most people’s list of probable scorers.
With a good chunk of time left, there was still time for United to come back. But this is new United not the old one. This one is so limited as to be almost boring. So here Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team huffed and puffed through the later stages and waited for something to drop for them.
It never did and it never deserved too. Bruce was the manager who approached this game as though he felt he had something to prove and it was reflected in his team’s showing. Last week they surrendered at Leicester but here they fronted up. Bruce deserves great credit for that. Solskjaer’s United, on the other hand, just turned up and hoped.
There was nothing news about them here, nothing to suggest there would be improvement on the torpor of draws with Arsenal in the Premier League and Alkmaar in the Europa League.
They had one good chance all afternoon and that was headed wide by Harry Maguire just before half-time. United simply must do better than this. They must be more motivated and they must be better coached.
They are one point ahead of Newcastle in the league table now and Newcastle are, remember, one of the favourites to go down. That feels about right. Having taken almost half an hour for United to register a shot when they played last Monday against Arsenal, it took them almost the whole first half here.
When it came, from left-sided midfielder Andreas Pereira, it was greeted by sarcastic cheers from the away supporters. United will never be a free-scoring team until they add some attacking personnel to their squad. Even by their meagre standards, this was pretty dismal. Had they been playing a team carrying greater confidence of their own, they would have been behind by half-time.
Newcastle were the more urgent, quicker and more progressive side when they had the ball in the opening 45 minutes and as a result they had the better chances. Bruce had made changes for this game after Newcastle’s thrashing at Leicester last time out. One of the players coming in to the team, the midfielder Saint-Maximin, almost brought his team a change of fortune in the very first minute.
Picking up the ball in his own half, he ran hard at the heart of the United defence and it terrified them. As players in red scattered before him. Saint-Maximim slid the ball to his right where the overlapping Miguel Almiron had only De Gea to beat. The angle was tight but Almiron still took too long, allowing Ashley Young to block on the slide.
But they remained vulnerable to the counter attack, though, and Newcastle eventually got them in the 72nd minute. It seemed briefly as though another quick raid from Saint-Maximin may be about to come to nothing but this time the right options were chosen, by him and by the overlapping Willems, and Longstaff’s shot travelled like an arrow past De Gea’s right hand.