Newcastle’s new signing Harrison Ashby is the perfect backup to Kieran Trippier

Newcastle’s new signing Harrison Ashby is the perfect backup to Kieran Trippier

A free-kick right-back who enjoys random creations? sounds familiar…

Newcastle United have been looking for a young backup for Kieran Trippier practically since the moment they signed the 32-year-old from Atletico Madrid last January.

Emil Krafth is out for a long time with a knee injury while head coach Eddie Howe appears to be unfamiliar with Javier Manquillo, who was a regular under Steve Bruce.

Matt Targett’s injury also complicates matters as Howe sees the left-back as a capable emergency right-back.

Sporting director Dan Ashworth was keen to find a young, homegrown solution if possible – and Newcastle have opted for Harrison Ashby, West Ham United’s academy product.

On Sunday, the two clubs agreed a deal that could rise to £3million ($3.7million) after a Summer Deadline Day offer for Ashby fell through.

Newcastle subsequently considered Real Valladolid’s Ivan Fresneda, who was interested by Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund this month, and Leeds United’s Cody Drameh, but – as with several signings – he happily played the long game and returned for Ashby.

But with the 21-year-old making just seven first-team appearances for West Ham and barely playing this season, why does the Newcastle hierarchy believe Ashby can contribute to the senior team straight away?

The answer is his courage, technical ability and physical willingness.

The Papa John’s Trophy – where under-21 teams meet lower-league senior teams – can be an intimidating arena for young talent where they are likely to be outperformed physically. The much more inexperienced academy players will have to rely on their technical skills, with Ashby shining against Gillingham in October 2021.

Take that pass, a ball very few established Premier League midfielders could play. Ashby picks up the ball low and pressure-free and sees winger Thierry Nevers run.

“He started out as a midfielder and played everywhere for West Ham,” Ashby’s father Barry, himself a former professional player, told The Athletic in October 2020. “The only position he hasn’t played for West Ham is goalkeeper.

“Then he went on the right wing for a while, played at left-back, he played as a centre-back for the U16s and U18s, but he’s always liked the right-back position.”

That background in midfield was on full display here, as Ashby’s 60-yard pass first hit his marker before dissecting the gap between Gillingham’s center back and left-back.

Nevers won the race to the ball, rounding out Aaron Chapman to score. Notably, Ashby was bullied.

Trippier is a major creative outlet for Newcastle. He has created 21 chances from open play, leads the team and is only second to Kevin De Bruyne among Premier League players.

In the 2021-22 season, when Krafth was last fully fit and Manquillo was last a regular, Trippier produced more than twice as many shooting actions as his substitutes. He averaged 2.34 per 90 minutes while Krafth averaged 1.05 and Manquillo .93.

It’s a player with the potential to replicate the full-back stats that Newcastle have been looking for. Ashby produced six assists and two goals in just 19 games in Premier League 2 last season, showing that ability.

Ashby happily continues his runs and enters the box on underlaps to try for goal himself. Shortly after his miracle pass against Gillingham, he chips the ball to the baseline for midfielder Daniel Chesters to pursue.

With plenty of cross options in the box, many full-backs would have sat back, but Ashby drifts into the box before timing his sprint perfectly – and converting the back ball to give West Ham a win that left his fingerprints everywhere.

So why hasn’t he played more for West Ham’s first-team? His appearances to date have been generally limited to off-the-bench opportunities during European campaigns, including against Dinamo Zagreb and Viborg, and in a Carabao Cup defeat by Tottenham.

Initially a member of Chelsea academy before joining West Ham aged nine, he made his first-team debut in September 2020 aged 18 in the Carabao Cup against Charlton Athletic, taking advantage of several absences due to from COVID-19.

“All the London clubs wanted Harrison to come to training,” Barry recalls. Although born in Milton Keynes, Ashby is a Scotland Under-21 international due to his maternal grandfather.

But his path to first-team minutes has been blocked in recent years by college graduate Ben Johnson, just two years his senior, and fan favorite Vladimir Coufal. The versatile Thilo Kehrer is also above him in the pecking order.

He also struggled with a nagging groin injury that severely hampered his pre-season and only recovered in early November. After coming on as a substitute against FCSB in the Europa Conference League later that month, he picked up on another issue just three days later when he became captain of the Under-21 side, denying him the chance to play with David during the World Cup break Moyes to work together.

Moyes had given Ashby his first Premier League game against Arsenal in December 2021 where the youngster immediately showed confidence.

First contact in the Premier League? Knocks down the charging Eddie Nketiah with a crisp inward spin.

He was also comfortable dictating attacks down the right flank. Ashby goes up to punch another Scotland full-back, Kieran Tierney, in the air and is immediately dealt a return ball by Tomas Soucek.

Spotting Jarrod Bowen in the pocket, Ashby plays a pass over the face of Arsenal’s defense and yells towards the touchline for a potentially dangerous return ball – but Bowen couldn’t find a passing lane.

He also impressed defensively in difficult circumstances. With West Ham trailing 2-0 and pushing forward in the closing minutes, Ashby marks two players – Nuno Tavares and Tierney – in an acre of space.

Careful not to overexert himself, Ashby waits for Tavares to get the ball down before timing his challenge to quell the threat, mindful of Tierney’s underlapping run.

It wasn’t a perfect cameo – a late pass over his own goal to Soucek was underjudged and Nketiah almost rallied to score.

Craig Dawson has managed to eliminate the hazard – and it at least shows Ashby’s determination to play rather than clear the ball straight away, a trait Howe will relish.

Despite being slated to be a member of the first-team squad, Ashby is unlikely to play any significant minutes straight away, especially given his lack of playing time in recent months. Remarkably muscular for a full-back, his cameos in senior football so far show his physical readiness.

Against Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League last season, he combines well with Andriy Yarmolenko, putting his foot on the ball to survey the field and waiting for just the right moment to speed up the game.

In the parlance of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, this would be known as a ‘pausa’ and is an impressive quality for a young player making his senior debut. While waiting for Croatia Under-21 international Daniel Stefulj to jump onto his heels, he plays into Yarmolenko’s feet and spins wide for the back pass.

Stefulj is recovering well but Ashby is showing impressive strength – and good control – to stay on his feet and face the challenge. He hangs up a cross at the far post where Pablo Fornals heads just over.

He can be overambitious. Already in the second minute of the same game he tries to use his pace to beat winger Luka Ivanusec on the outside.

He is pushed into a dead end and deprived of the ball.

This enthusiasm also shows in his defensive work. An entertaining sequence in the last game Ashby played against Tottenham Under-21s sees him leading the press from right-back.

Despite being out of position, he keeps pushing, eventually forcing the ball back to the goalkeeper.

Coming back to the Dinamo Zagreb game, it’s encouraging that Ashby continues to rely on his skills despite making a mistake early in the game. In the second half, when Ivanusec offers him the outside, Ashby comes up against him again.

This time, however, he is jostled and Ashby uses his upper body strength to shake off the older attacker.

This rudeness is also evident in his defensive work.

In a pre-season friendly against Swiss club Servette last July, Ashby will be left out by a weak pass from Craig Dawson.

However, he snags a tackle on defensive midfielder David Douline and gains contact before getting back on his feet.

Alexis Antunes appears to be favorite for the second free ball, but Ashby reclaims possession and returns it to Dawson.

At £3million, Ashby is a low-risk signing. The hope is that over the next few seasons – until the de facto captain’s contract expires in 2025 – he will gain first-team experience as Trippier’s backup before eventually becoming first-choice.

His characteristics are already reminiscent of the England international – and while Ashby has no first-team minutes, remember Trippier was a late developer himself.

your free kick skills? Trippier’s goal against Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semifinals is well known.

TARGET! Kieran Trippier scores from a fabulous free-kick for @England!

— ITV Football (@itvfootball) July 11, 2018

Ashby vs Leeds U23 team? Fewer.

Harrison Ashby can play! 🎯

The right-back is seen as a long-term replacement for Kieran Trippier and is set to sign for £3m (add-ons included) ✍️⚫️⚪️#NUFC #WHU #WHUFC

— (@NUFCblogcouk) January 29, 2023

Newcastle hope Ashby Trippier reflects in more than just dead balls.

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