Newcastle hero Sean Longstaff received shooting advice from Alan Shearer
When you are going through a dry spell, who better to turn to for advice than the greatest goalscorer of them all?
Before Tuesday night, Sean Longstaff had scored just twice in his last 80 Newcastle appearances – and not at all at St James’ Park in almost four years.
The midfielder had been particularly guilty of glaring misses in his side’s three previous home matches against Leeds, Leicester and Fulham.
There was a similarity between the way Sean Longstaff (left) celebrated his goals during Newcastle’s Carabao Cup win over Southampton and how Alan Shearer (right) used to
The midfielder’s quick-fire double at St James’ Park booked Newcastle’s Wembley date
So, before the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg, Longstaff did what any goal-shy footballer would love to be able to do – he phoned Alan Shearer.
The 25-year-old has got to know Newcastle’s all-time leading scorer over the years through his uncle Alan Thompson, the ex-England and Celtic player, and they also play at the same golf club.
Well, whatever words of wisdom Longstaff received from Shearer this week, they worked a treat, as he ended his St James’ drought in spectacular style with a brace inside the first 21 minutes against Southampton.
He even celebrated his second goal with a Shearer-esque one-arm salute, although he denied it was a deliberate tribute to the Toon icon.
Shearer tweeted to Longstaff after his goals after the pair had spoken about the art of scoring
The midfielder gave the hosts the perfect start with a fine strike in the fifth minute on Tuesday
‘Alan is someone I’ve looked up to since I was a young lad and one of the best bits about him is he’s always a phone call or a text away,’ explained Longstaff.
‘With things like the finishing, I spoke to him a little bit and tried to get a few tips from him. There is no one better to get tips from and for him to be available to me is really special. It’s still really surreal.’
What, then, did Shearer say to yield such instant results? ‘It’s probably a lot more simple than what people would think,’ said Longstaff.
‘The main thing is trying to hit the target. You sometimes think you have to reinvent the wheel and put it exactly in the top corner or a certain spot, but nine times out of 10 you don’t have to do that.’
Longstaff managed hit the target all right on Tuesday, with his early goals sealing Newcastle their place in a first Wembley final since 1999.
Longstaff doubled Newcastle’s advantage in 21st minute with a clinical finish and the Toon went on to prevail 3-1 on aggregate to reach the final at Wembley
Shearer was in the side that lost to Manchester United in the FA Cup final 24 years ago and he was cheering from his box at St James’ against Southampton.
‘Keep getting in there, it will happen. You f****** beauty,’ Shearer tweeted after Longstaff’s brace.
To many around the club, Longstaff’s lack of goals has been a mystery.
He regularly found the net in Newcastle’s youth teams and scored four in his first four League One games for Blackpool on loan there in 2017.
‘I knew it was always in the locker and if I kept getting in those positions, I couldn’t miss them forever,’ smiled Longstaff.
Shearer knew a thing or two about striking the ball cleanly during his time with Newcastle
Eddie Howe’s faith in the local lad has certainly never wavered. ‘He has missed a few chances in recent weeks but I’ve always believed he’s an excellent finisher,’ said the Newcastle manager. ‘We see it a lot in training.
‘Converting that to a game is a challenge for every player. But I always believe if you get in the right areas, it will come together and it has. I think there is a lot more to come from him.’
This time last year, Longstaff was wondering whether he even had a future at his hometown team. He was stuck on the bench with his contract due to expire in the summer.
At the same time, Newcastle had just become the richest club in the world and fans were clamouring for marquee midfield signings.
But the Magpies turned down a lowly £1million offer for Longstaff from Everton and he signed a new three-year deal last May. Since then, he has established himself as one of the first names on Howe’s teamsheet.
Shearer was part of the Newcastle team that reached their last cup final in 1999 – they lost 2-0 to Manchester United at Wembley in the FA Cup final
He has started every game since September and will be more important than ever over the next few weeks, with Bruno Guimaraes now banned for three games and with Newcastle having sold Jonjo Shelvey but failed to land a new midfielder.
‘His all-round performances this season have been excellent,’ said Howe. ‘He is getting the rewards for what I saw last year. He didn’t play for me initially but behind the scenes I saw a player that was really committed to his training and really wanted to improve. I think he’s an excellent payer and adding goals will only improve other people’s awareness of that.’
Longstaff looked close to tears as he conducted his post-match interviews on the pitch on Tuesday, while the Toon Army serenaded him with chants of ‘He’s one of our own’. He waved and blew kisses to his friends and family in the crowd, which included his dad David and his brother Matty, his fellow Newcastle midfielder.
Longstaff poses with his man of the match trophy after Newcastle’s 2-1 win on Tuesday night
‘Your eyes do well up,’ said Longstaff. ‘For me personally, it’s been a long journey. Before the new manager came in, it was tough. This was a culmination of the manager helping me get back to where I want to be and I will be forever grateful for him.’
Longstaff was less grateful, however, for Howe calling on him to ‘do the Dan Burn’ in the dressing room after the match.
The Newcastle boss was referring to defender Burn’s dance that went viral following their last Carabao Cup win against Leicester, but Longstaff chose to keep his moves for the pitch.
‘There was a lot of pressure on him to do it but he turned it down,’ laughed Howe. ‘And quite wise, too!’
Whether Longstaff will be quite so restrained if Newcastle win at Wembley, however, is a different story.
The Magpies have not won a major trophy since 1969 and Longstaff added: ‘It’s a long time since we’ve got to a final but ultimately, if you don’t win it, it is pointless getting there.
‘If it is Manchester United, they will be expected to beat us. There is no real pressure on us to go there and win. We will enjoy the occasion and we are a quietly confident group. We know we can achieve anything if we are all together.’