The groans across Tyneside were almost audible on Friday as Rafa Benitez revealed Islam Slimani would be out for another two weeks through injury.

Newcastle fans are still waiting on the forward’s debut, expected against Manchester United and then at Bournemouth.

But the absence of the January deadline day loan signing has not been felt as keenly as many expected.

Dwight Gayle and Joselu had struggled to lead the line effectively for Newcastle earlier in the season but, boosted by Slimani’s knock, the former has hit form in recent weeks.

Gayle worked tirelessly against Man United, teeing up Matt Ritchie for the goal, and he was better still in the trip to Bournemouth.

The former Crystal Palace man scored twice, making him Newcastle’s top scorer this season with five Premier League goals, and his movement terrorised the Bournemouth back line.

This was the Gayle of last season, who was far too clever for Championship defences and looked capable of making the step up.

The 27-year-old has had a frustrating campaign, but Slimani’s absence has allowed him to belatedly flourish.

Given that the on-loan Leicester City forward may struggle to make his return before the March international break, he is quickly running out of time to make an impact.

Gayle cannot be dropped in his current form either, meaning Slimani may not even start in the six or seven games for which he is available.

The Algerian’s chances of sealing a permanent move to St James’ Park were dealt a blow by his latest injury, but it was Gayle’s performance on Saturday that truly spelt trouble for Slimani.

It would take a remarkable end to the season for the former Sporting CP forward to convince Rafa to splash out in the summer.

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