Howe caught us by surprise. That is what happens when you’re expecting a starting XI that pretty much names itself because of an injury-ravaged squad. Even then, though, Eddie found the courage to name an even weirder set of starters to face newly promoted Fulham away from St James’ Park and into the eighth matchday of the season.
Not only were all of Isak, Shelvey, and Wood discarded—all of their absences and issues were known in advance of the game—but also Saint-Maximin and, most surprisingly, Matt Target and Joelinton. What was the deal here? What did all of this mean? Was Howe sending a message to the two missing players and thus to those considered perennial starters? Did this mean that the coach had decided no more guaranteed starts were ahead for any player if results didn’t start to come?
Turns out, we were all wrong.
Howe picked a heavily rotated eleven to start the game, yes, but that was all because of nagging issues or last-minute/unknown injuries being picked up by some Magpies over the past couple of weeks after the game against Bournemouth before the break.
That opened the door for Sven Botman to start in the middle of the defense next to Fabian Schar and to the right of yesterday-left-back Dan Burn. That also solved the Willock-Longstaff conundrum for Howe, we didn’t have many more options to pick the midfield trio with Joelinton out. Perhaps the really surprising selection was that of Jacob Murphy ahead of Ryan Fraser.
Fraser came from featuring in all three games for Scotland during the break and he did well enough to nearly lock himself into a starting role with ASM expected to be out of commission. Didn’t happen, with Murphy taking on his starting spot for the first time this season in Premier League competition and playing the full 90’ minutes.
This was a make-or-break game for the Magpies, full stop. Yes, it had only been seven games played before yesterday with just 21 of the total 114 points in play. But getting only eight of those 21 in seven matches was starting to look rather underwhelming and mediocre for a team with such high targets and goals as those of Newcastle since the takeover was completed almost a year ago.
Fulham could be the perfect foe for the Magpies to fix their wrongs. That’s only, of course, because the pupils of Eddie Howe had only defeated one team in the Premier League this season and that was Nottingham Forest, another promoted team from the Championship earlier this year and into the 2022/23 season.
There was a little problem with having such a bright expectation, though: Fulham was sitting sixth in the table before kick-off and looking down on Newcastle from a higher position as things stood.
What nobody knew, though, is that the game would be played on a 10-vs.-11 basis from the fifth minute on and after a prolonged appearance on scene by our beloved Video Assistant Referee. The casualty, Fulham’s defender Nathaniel Chalobah got off the pitch having seen a yellow-turned-red card after trying to break Sean Longstaff's ankle with a very late tackle.
Even before that happened, and on a 22-men leveled field, Callum Wilson—finally fit and starting again—already hit the post after Burn’s effort was stopped by Bernd Leno. Things were already looking good for the Magpies but the red card made them look great.
Fulham, simply put, never stood a chance. As it should be.
Newcastle aims to become the Seventh Great or, at the very least, displace Tottenham from the Big Six. For that to happen games like this must take place on a weekly basis. Had it been Liverpool or Manchester City facing Fulham, rotations wouldn’t have made their fans bat an eye. Those behemoths would have played their game, bagged a few goals, earned three more points, and flown back home. Another day at the office.
Good for the Geordie faithful, that’s what they got to experience on a sunny Saturday in the capital.
Barely half an hour into the game it was already 0-2 with goals by Wilson and, of course, Miguel Almirón.
There is this Miggy Corollary thing that proves to be true every time you criticize Almirón. He just goes on and put on a show the next time he has the chance, such as yesterday in the Cottage. What a wonderful game, what a wonderful boy, what a wonderful world.
It feels like Almirón has been a Tyneside resident for eight years, but it’s only been three seasons and a half for him in Newcastle after arriving from overseas at the end of Jan. 2019. He has scored 12 goals in 99 starts from 118 total matches for the Magpie club. Haters will tell you that even Aleksandar Mitrovic was better in his 65 games (33 started) donning black and white stripes as he graced the net 14 times.
Do you know what Almirón has never done that Mitro has, though? Quit a game not even 40 minutes into the first half. Weak move, Mitro.
Strong move: Longstaff. That is because Sean made it 0-3 before halftime and between that match-deciding goal and the whistle two more Fulham players decided it had been enough for them: debutant Kurzawa and Mbabu leaving the game in extra time to give themselves some extra minutes of rest on an already-lost game.
This game was, simply, another clear show of how a giant should always stomp a minnow. Forest suffered Newcastle. Fulham did so yesterday. Both teams got recently promoted to the top-flight division and Newcastle just made them look that way.
Decordova-Reid put one in for the Cottagers 88 minutes into this thing when all of Jamaal Lascelles, Elliot Anderson, Ryan Fraser, and Jamal Lewis were on the pitch after getting subbed in. You get an idea. It was the first and only shot by Fulham all day long. Not that anybody sporting the proper desaturated colors on the stands cared that much, though. Not even those who left for home at split time.
Miggy could have scored three, Fraser was a foot from bagging one himself with a last-minute action between the Scottish and Murphy on a counterattack. It was a delightful day, and Newcastle is now seventh in a table that is looking much better today than it did 24 hours ago.
No more breaks until the World Cup arrives in November. Newcastle plays no midweek games for a couple of weeks as they will be hosting Brentford next Saturday before flying to Manchester to play the Other United on Sunday, Oct. 16.
Howay the lads!