Newcastle boss Eddie Howe would have no qualms over handing “big-game player” Elliot Anderson the chance to make a name for himself with late-season heroics for a second time.
Twelve months ago, the 20-year-old midfielder ended a hugely successful loan spell at Bristol Rovers in style when he scored the crucial last goal in a 7-0 final-day drubbing of relegated Scunthorpe to edge them to automatic promotion from Sky Bet League Two at Northampton’s expense.
On Monday evening, he could find himself playing a key role as the Magpies attempt to seal Champions League qualification against struggling Leicester, with fellow midfielder Joe Willock nursing a hamstring injury and Sean Longstaff working his way back from a foot problem.
Asked about Anderson’s readiness, head coach Howe said: “No qualms at all. He would have played more this season if it hadn’t been for the form of the players around him, there’s no doubt about that for me.
“The midfield has been performing as a unit very, very well this year. You look at each of the players in that midfield and you’d say they’re up there as our best-performing players, so Elliot, we believe in him, it’s just been the strength of the group.
“I think he showed last year in his loan spell – it was a brilliant experience for him – he showed that he’s a big-game player. When they needed him, Bristol Rovers, he stood up and made the difference and yes, it could be a chance for him to do that again.”
Anderson returned to Tyneside after his spell in Bristol and forced his way into the first-team picture, although he has had to remain patient.
Twenty-one of his 25 appearances to date have come from the bench, and his only Premier League start against Liverpool in February ended after just 24 minutes when he was replaced by goalkeeper Martin Dubravka following Nick Pope’s dismissal.
Howe said: “I’d say he would consider himself a first-team player now, as in a fully-integrated member of the first-team squad. He’s trained consistently throughout the season.
“It’s very difficult for those lads that haven’t played regularly when the team wins consistently and has performed as well as it has to wait for their chance.
“Now, he’s a young player that has been desperate to play, he’s controlled his emotions really well. I do believe he’s added elements to his game and improved certain parts of his game that needed to improve.
“I’d say he’s ready. He’s versatile – he proved that against Brighton. He came on on the right side of midfield. He’s predominantly been used by me as a left-side player and he’s very much capable, so we believe in him.”