Flo riding crest of a wave after marking comeback with win
Written by Rory Mitchinson
Florian Lejeune was delighted to mark his long-awaited comeback to first-team action with a victory over Crystal Palace – the same team he suffered his second serious knee injury against eight months ago.
Lejeune left St. James’ Park on crutches following the corresponding fixture last term – in which the Magpies suffered a late defeat – but, having returned to United’s bench against Burnley a week ago, the Frenchman completed 90 minutes as Steve Bruce’s side ground out a hard-fought win of their own.
The decisive moment came courtesy of Miguel Almirón, who broke his duck for Newcastle nearly a year after joining to spark raucous scenes at St. James’ in the Magpies’ final outing before Christmas.
All things considered, then, Lejeune could hardly have scripted a better afternoon either personally or collectively. And, with the help of First Team Rehabilitation Coach Cristian Fernández – with whom he has worked so closely on the road to recovery – he spoke to nufc.co.uk after the game.
“It has been a really great feeling to be back playing again, especially after these eight months – it has been a lot of hard work,” the 28-year-old said. “I’m very pleased to come back playing – I needed it – and I am very happy to come back with a win. It is a good feeling.
“I have been ready for a while, but the team were winning so it was difficult for me to play. The other players were doing well. But today we had some injuries so it was my turn to play, and now I just hope to keep going.
“For me, it was great to just feel a goal at St. James’ again. But I’m especially happy for Miggy – he is a player who works very hard every day. He was waiting and he deserved to get his goal.”
As they did against Southampton in their last outing at St. James’, the Magpies were made to work hard to preserve their impressive record of having not lost on home soil since the opening weekend of the campaign. Although Luka Milivojević and Christian Benteke both threatened for Palace, it was United who made the breakthrough in the end, with Almirón’s strike arriving with less than ten minutes to play.
The irony of making his return to action against the Eagles, of all sides, wasn’t lost on Lejeune, who paid tribute to his teammates for digging deep in front of their own supporters once more.
“Well, I thought about (the prospect of playing against Palace) a little bit – it’s such a coincidence,” he said. “But then obviously during the game you don’t think about it. You just focus on the game – it doesn’t matter who the rival is.
“It’s true that here at home it has sometimes been difficult to beat the opposition. But when you are not creating attacks you have to keep a clean sheet and work hard in defence and then try to find the opportunity to score a goal. It has been like that, and that’s a positive. It means the team are building up this momentum in attack.”
Looking ahead to the impending New Year, the former Eibar centre half signed off with a smile.
“I hope to have no more injuries and now I have two new knees, so I am happy about that,” he joked. “I hope to crack on and keep going. I am very happy today.”
"It has been a really great feeling to be back playing again, especially after these eight months – it has been a lot of hard work."