He may not be the most sung about player on the terraces, but Paul Dummett has emerged as one of the key figures under Rafa Benitez. Even his fiercest critics would struggle to disagree with that. The Newcastle United academy graduate has had a love-hate relationship with the supporters since breaking into the first-team during the Alan Pardew era. The manager at the time told him early on that he didn’t have the quality to be a first team player at St James’ Park. That gave the left-back the fire needed to prove his boss wrong. It has since been a slow journey to acceptance on Tyneside, but he has now done that.
There was a time when supporters moaned on social media when Dummett’s name was on the team-sheet. It can be tougher for a local lad to be accepted as they are held to higher standards. But during the early part of his Newcastle career, the defender wasn’t ready to be a regular first-team player. That was clear, but that didn’t mean that he was the waste of squad space. First impressions count for a lot in football and that is true on Tyneside.
Hatem Ben Arfa is still considered a great player, despite displaying an unprofessional attitude throughout his time at the club. His early form was exciting, and it became impossible for a large section of the support to view him as anything other than a player that should be in the first-team. Towards the end of his time at the club, he didn’t care about performing on the pitch. His influence waned and he was out of shape. Pardew received criticism for the way the Frenchman was forced out of the club, but the attacker was largely to blame.
The career of Dummett couldn’t be more different. PD has had to fight and claw his way to acceptance, as his lack of natural talent was often used as a stick to beat him with. The Welsh international wasn’t a modern-day full-back that offered an attacking outlet down the left-wing. He isn’t going to overlap his winger and deliver dangerous crosses into the box, but he has continually worked on the training ground and the improvement in his game is evident.
Since breaking into the first-team, he has been preferred to the likes of Davide Santon, Ryan Taylor, Massadio Haidara and Javi Manquillo. Dummett is arguably the least naturally talented amongst them, but his work rate has seen him maintain his place in the first eleven. Alan Pardew, John Carver and Steve McClaren all regularly picked him. Although they were not well-respected by the supporters, the man currently in the hot seat is and he remains loyal to the academy graduate.
There was the famous banner that read ‘we don’t demand a team that wins, we demand a team that tries’, yet Dummett hasn’t been widely accepted. That is until this season. Despite the team’s position in the league table, the majority of fans have refused to be overly critical of the players and for good reason. They leave nothing on the pitch and the player that best personifies this team is Dummett. He has been a tireless worker ever since breaking into the team and he is now playing within a unit that shares that quality.
In addition to his work rate, he has become a very good defender and although there are some players in the squad that aren’t ‘Premier League quality’, but our left-back definitely is. I wrote earlier in the season that his return would be huge for the club and that has been proven true by the results that have followed.
Since his injury, Dummett has played in nine Premier League matches and Newcastle have lost only two of those, both coming against Manchester City. In the nine matches that preceded his return, we had won only once and conceded 20 times. It would be too simplistic to suggest the left-back was solely responsible for the upturn in form, but he has played a big role as the club slowly climb to safety.
Against Manchester United, Dummett was rarely out of position and covered a lot of ground down the left-hand side. He won three aerial duels, made four ball recoveries and completed seven clearances. The 26-year-old left everything on the pitch as he does every week and it was pleasing to see his efforts contribute to a huge three points.
Benitez knows the limitations that Dummett has in his game and the tactical set-up goes a long way to hide those. The manager doesn’t ask his left-back to attack often and prefers him to stay back. This way it makes it a back three when United are trying to make something happen in the final third. It is his fellow full-back DeAndre Yedlin that is given the license to get forward.
The two combinations on either flank work well, as Benitez has coupled together an attack-minded full-back with a hard-working winger and vice-versa. Each partnership dovetails well and provides United with balance. At times, Dummett does move forward, but he picks his times intelligently and doesn’t often demand for the ball. His presence is designed to take a defender away and leave space for the more talented players to operate in. Kenedy has really benefitted from that since his loan arrival.
It is clear to everyone now that Paul Dummett is a crucial player for Newcastle. There isn’t another option in the squad that even comes close to him at the time of writing. His work rate is infectious and he can now be considered a leader in the team. This is a young squad and Dummett is one of the most experienced Premier League players. It shows and the player that has had to fight hard to prove the doubters wrong has now been accepted. If Benitez remains at the club, the left-back will continue to develop and it will be great to watch.