‘Score goals, score goals, score goals, Dwight Gayle will always score goals.’  Except he won’t. He hasn’t for a while now.

And much as the ancient world went about their collective lives by reference to pre and post a biblical bairn’s birth, Gayle’s United career also pivots on a moment in time; Newcastle’s last league visit to Brentford.  Sadly, unlike wor Lord Jesús (Gámez) though, there has been no post-crucifixion resurrection. Nor even a flicker of an afterlife.

Back in January 2017, Gayle was flying. United were too.  A partnership with Ayoze Pérez, although in its infancy, had hallmarks of youthful infatuation, while Jonjo Shelvey had a forward making those smart darts into space his passing craved.

Identified by Rafa Benitez as promotion-winning material, Gayle was proving precisely that. Already there had been a quintet of braces and a pair of hat-tricks. One of those was that memorable late-night injury-time double at SJP to secure a 4-3 victory against Norwich. Oh, how the press box’s collective blood pressure must have soared.

And at old Griffin Park, all was bubbling along nicely. Gayle opened the scoring to reach 20 in only his 24th appearance. Then, 28 minutes in, his hamstring popped. Five years on and Gayle’s continued presence is living proof of the mis-managerial malaise that infected the Benton corridors for too long.

That injury was not particularly serious, and Gayle returned a month later. But he would make only a further six starts that season. And post-Brentford, he has scored just 13 times in 95 games, more than half of those appearances coming from the bench.

Gayle did bag six in United’s first season back in top-flight (2017/18). But there was a slew of chances a pre-Brentford Gayle would have put away with his eyes soldered shut; his xG that year was 9.5.

Then a season-long loan at West Brom in 2018-19 bore plenty of fruit (23 in 39). It might have ended in promotion had Gayle not been suspended for the second-leg of the Play Off Semi-Final. Not like he was knackered then.  And this season, Gayle has made 22 of United’s 24 Premier League match-day squads.

Small, fiery and feisty, he must be a nightmare to defend. A strapping centre-back worth half their salt will have few worries coming up against a lumpy forward. But a nippy Rottweiler of a striker – all elbows, pointy edges, and running – is an altogether more difficult assignment. Plus, there is a natural finisher’s instinct to beware of.

Some blame must lie with the player, who seems comfortable taking his wedge for doing little. It is difficult to know with any certainty, but the general impression is that he hasn’t exactly pushed a move. But he did not award himself a contract extension last year. Instead, in their infinite [insert word of choice here], the previous regime concluded that, in a post-pandemic world, a replacement would cost more than the status quo.  Seal that stab-wound with Vaseline and pray you don’t bleed out.

And so, another transfer window ‘slams shut’. The late Glenn Roeder continues to cast an eye over Dirk Kuyt and the links to the Championship’s upper-echelons for Gayle become more infrequent. And once more he finds himself part of the 25 in name only, that ex who, more than once, you’ve gone delete from your contacts, only to think better of it ‘just in case.’ But – a bit like Eddie Howe – you never do call; only five outfield Premier League players been unused subs more times this season than Gayle (18).

Making an impact as a top-flight striker is not easy. But there are others who have outlasted Gayle on Tyneside that many might rightly wonder why they were not given a chance to prove themselves.

The first will be the leader of the opposition on Saturday; Ivan Toney. For now, at least, he remains the joint-holder of the record for most Championship strikes in a campaign (31, 2020/21).  Toney’s leap is one of his finer assets, and he is making a decent fist of the jump.  Six in 21 games thus far represents a decent return, particularly given that pre-last year, all bar 12 minutes of Toney’s career had been played at League One level or below.

That dozen came in black and white. Signed from Northampton as a 19-year-old with promise, Toney was initially part of the development squad. Steve McLaren was impressed, rewarding Toney with a pair of League Cup sub outings. Then came late cameos in score draws with Chelsea and Manchester United respectively. Rafa never really took to him though, and following a series of League One loans, he was sold to Peterborough at the start of 2018. Safe to say he has flourished away from Tyneside.  The old jobsworths were right though; re-signing Toney would have cost significantly more than keeping Dwight.

Then there is the Serbian plying his trade a few miles further south.  Aleksandar Mitrović really is on fire. He has just drawn level with Toney on 31 Championship goals, taking just 29 games to get there. In all, for Fulham in the second-tier, 86 appearances (84 starts) have brought 69 goals.

Mitrović temperament was the sticking point. A pair of red-cards in his opening season, meant Rafa simply didn’t trust him. There was that famous start at Molineux where he had to be removed at half-time to avoid a dismissal that should have already come.

But he has a fine international record and there are signs of calmness. With a chest pass that would have LeBron James purring,  Mitrović’s all-round play has been transformed under Marco Silva. He and Toney were at SJP for the same time, and in 40 Premier League games he grabbed 10 goals. It is easy to forget he was just 20 then; at 26 he is likely to make a more significant impact if Fulham win promotion.

It would be remiss in this space not to mention a third former forward; Adam Armstrong, the one local boy of the trio. Again, moved on by Rafa. It’s not for us to question his genius but…

Like Toney and Mitrović, Armstrong was sold in the 2018 summer to Blackburn, having spent the second-half of the previous campaign on-loan at Ewood Park. That spell had brought nine goals and promotion from League One, and came after a switch to Bolton had been cut short due largely to a lack of effectiveness.

Armstrong is all about clever touches, ghosting into space and the sort of ‘press circle + R2’ finish that brings gamers most pleasure. A slow-burner at Championship level, his 28 strikes (plus five assists) nestled him under Toney in last season’s scoring charts. And that allowed him to complete the reverse Alan Shearer by joining Southampton. No great shakes just yet, but give it time. A Che Adams style impact feels possible.

So, there we have it; three forwards, all completely different, all entering their prime, all on Newcastle’s books alongside Gayle. That he has outlived them all is astonishing. That will be rectified in the summer but in the meantime, wouldn’t it be nice to sing it just once more?

SAM DALLING @sammyd767