Allan Saint-Maximin has been challenged to light up St James’ Park as he did after he first arrived at Newcastle after emerging from his coronavirus nightmare.
The 23-year-old Frenchman has made four brief appearances as a substitute in the last fortnight following his return from a two-month lay-off as he recovered from Covid-19, but is in line to start against Southampton on Saturday.
Since he last made the XI against Chelsea on November 21, the Magpies have won only three of the 15 fixtures they have played in all competitions and lost 10, and head coach Steve Bruce is hoping his £16million signing from Nice during the summer of 2019 can turn back the clock.
Asked how big a contribution Saint-Maximin might be able to make after what he has been through, Bruce said: “That’s always the million-dollar question.
“He was idle – I mean really idle, because he had to be – for eight weeks. He’s now had four (lots of) 30 minutes, so we hope he’s as good as he’s going to be.
“We hope he has the effect on the team that certainly he had when he first came to the club.
“We know how important having your big players fit is and it’s good to see him back fit because certainly he will give us an edge, which he did do at the start of the season. Certainly we have missed him.”
If Saint-Maximin does start, he could be joined by loan signing Joe Willock following a deadline-day switch from Arsenal.
Bruce said: “He’s a little bit different to what we’ve got. He’s young and enthusiastic and raring to go so he’ll give us, hopefully, that youthfulness which at times you need.”
However, Bruce will head into the game in the midst of a crisis at the back with central defenders Jamaal Lascelles and Federico Fernandez out and Ciaran Clark about to become a father, while full-backs Paul Dummett and Jamal Lewis are doubts.
Matt Ritchie, whose proposed move back to Bournemouth fell through on Monday, could be asked to fill in at left wing-back as the Magpies attempt to bounce back from their midweek defeat by Crystal Palace by adding to the Saints’ woes after their 9-0 mauling at Manchester United.
However Bruce, who was in the United side which beat Ipswich by the same scoreline in March 1995, said: “I don’t think you can take any notice of the 9-0, what happened on the night.
“The one thing you’ll want is a response and you’ll want your big players back fit, and they look as if they’re nearly full strength.”