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Comment: Oliver Burke’s speed can do damage off the bench

When Alan Pardew was chasing the game on Saturday he threw on all the attacking talent he had at his disposal.

Oliver Burke. (AMA)
Oliver Burke. (AMA)

And it was Oliver Burke, the £15m forgotten man, who had the biggest impact of all the substitutes.

He nearly latched onto Gareth Barry’s ball over the top before he controlled Salomon Rondon’s cross and burst past Jack Stephens.

There was a hint of contact, and it would have been interesting to see what had happened had he gone down, but there was no doubt his blistering pace was frightening Southampton.

Burke is raw, unpolished, he moves so fast he doesn’t always get his feet in the right order, and has made a couple of high-profile mistakes that have shunted him down the pecking order.

But he’s proven himself capable of getting in behind defences – almost at will.

Pardew was understandably critical of his defending against Manchester United in the build-up to Romelu Lukaku’s goal, but Burke was unfairly singled out after the West Ham game for failing to take the ball into the corner at 1-1, days after the head coach had urged his team to take risks.

Saturday’s cameo was the first time he had featured since then, and in all likelihood, the 20-year-old will be shunted back down the pecking order once others return from injury.

But there are signs that he can be useful in the run-in. He may not be ready to start games, but his power and pace cannot be contained by the opposition, it can barely be contained by him.

That raw speed and direct running may just hold the key in the final half an hour of tense games, when legs are tired.

He offers something different from the bench, something unpredictable, something to fear.

Hopefully he won’t disappear once others return from injury, because Saturday’s cameo off the bench should not be his last this season.

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