NEWCASTLE United boss Chris Hughton believes Danny Guthrie will go from strength to strength in his new central midfield role – as he backed him to maintain his newly-discovered goal threat.
Since moving into the centre and disrupting Kevin Nolan and Alan Smith’s grip on the midfield engine room, Guthrie has been a revelation, adding creativity to an area that has been solid if unspectacular this season.
Nolan and Smith were the first-choice central pairing for most of the early part of the season but after injuries forced a re-think on Hughton’s part, Guthrie flourished in the rout of Barnsley.
Indeed, he has played a pivotal part in United’s more fluent, attacking performances at home since the turn of the year – his creativity helping Hughton’s men notch some impressive results.
The 22-year-old is playing his best football in black and white since signing from Liverpool and scored twice in the defeat of the Tykes to take his tally to five this season.
It is a contribution that has not gone unnoticed by Hughton, who will again hand Guthrie a central role in the absence of Smith for the trip
to Middlesbrough on Saturday. “Danny Guthrie is a very good footballer and has done very well lately,” Hughton said.
“He can play anywhere across the midfield but he is playing particularly well at the moment and he is still developing. I believe he has plenty of improvement still in him – he was brought here because of his abilities on the ball.
“He is a little bit different from the other midfielders and he is certainly a creative type. We have told him he is capable of adding goals to his games and he did that last weekend with two.”
Indeed Guthrie’s form has been so good that it has taken the pressure off Joey Barton’s long-awaited United comeback.
The combative midfielder is nearing a first-team return and played 45 minutes of a behind-closed-doors friendly against Hibernian – but Hughton continues to handle the one-time England man with kid gloves.
The United boss has not written off the possibility of Barton playing before the end of the campaign but he clearly wants him to be fully up to speed before throwing him into action after a near six-month absence with a broken bone in his foot.
“It is not a case of waiting till August,” Hughton said. “I am quite sure that when he is fit and when he feels he is match-fit he will certainly be making himself available. We have another reserve game next week and we will make a decision whether to play him in that game.
“A fit Joey Barton is a very good player and there is no doubt he will be champing at the bit – anyone who has been out for four months would find it a very frustrating period.
“But would he be playing if he was fit? That would be gauged week to week. First and foremost what he has to do is reach a level of fitness. He has only played 45 minutes for the reserves and he needs to get more games under his belt.”
Hughton says that Barton himself recognises the need to play more games before he can be considered for Championship action. “We don’t really have to rein him in,” he said. “He is clever enough to know what the situation is and how well the players have been playing.”