Everything looked rather weird one hour before the game. After rotating the squad a week ago in London to face Fulham with the team coming off a disappointing run, Howe was truly vindicated.
A 4-1 victory over the promoted Cottagers was made possible by the appearance of an extraordinary Willock, a surging Jacob Murphy, and the absence of Matt Target on the defensive line. The message, back then, seemed clear: no starts guaranteed for the better-regarded players of the squad unless things started to get better.
Of course, following that narrative and that mentality, what Newcastle announced on their social networks before the game was rather unsurprising—but still: the same eleven warriors that faced Fulham would do so on home turf against Brentford.
This allowed Sven Botman to keep acquiring the oft-demanded Premier League experience he’ll need to succeed in the top flight—or so do “experts” say. This allowed Willock and Longstaff (both still only 23 and 24 years old, believe it or not) to build chemistry in the midfield flanking Bruno the Wiz. This allowed Jacob Morphy, entering his prime, to start in back-to-back matches since he did for the last time last March, almost 20 games ago.
And Howe, of course, got things right again.
This game, on the one-year anniversary of the end of the Mike Ashley era as the owner of Newcastle, also marked the anniversary of Eddie Howe debuting as Newcastle's coach—almost, as he was the coach “named” to be on the bench a year ago on the game Newcastle drew 3-3 against Brentford but a bout with COVID had him locked into a Tyneside hotel.
This Saturday, the Magpies looked like a team fresh off the barbershop. They oozed confidence. They would have walked into whatever place you’d offered and absolutely came out champs off it.
Murphy razzled. Miggy dazzled.
Bruno swished. Wilson cruised.
Howe styled. The lads bustled.
And the referee and his assistants, somehow, got things right once and for all.
That image above serves as Brentford’s highlight package from yesterday’s game. No, seriously. They scored a goal, which I guess is more than falling offside and getting one ruled off, but that penalty kick came with the Magpies already ahead and on a fluky handball called on Dan Burn without the giant really meaning to commit any type of foul.
Other than that, it was a magnificent outing by Newcastle and it’s now been two in a row. Maybe, just maybe, the international break a couple of weeks ago proved that mid-tier teams, those still not featuring loads of called-up players, are about to benefit massively from the stoppage coming by way of the World Cup.
Since coming back from that brief hiatus Newcastle has won two of two, scored nine goals, and only conceded one (again, a penalty) in 180 minutes of play. Can’t stay that’s bad from any angle, can you?
From the 20th minute on, it was attack-attack-attack non-stop. So much so, that not even an asked-for penalty in the 21st after a Kieran Trippier cross found a defender of Brentford inside the box was going to be missed by the final whistle. That’s because that turned into a corner-kick finishing in the bottom of the net thanks to a trained play that saw Bruno arrive late on the second post to head Newcastle’s leading goal in.
With the 1-0 up in the scoreboard things only got better and better for the Magpies in a St James’ Park stadium that was as vibrant if not more than it was ever before.
Truth be told, one would think Thomas Frank and his boys came to the northeastern part of the country with one clear goal in mind: making it easy for Newcastle to finish the day sitting in Europa League-bound positions.
Ask goalie David Raya after his ill-advised pass to Callum Wilson in the 28th only for Murphy to tap the ball into the net after an assist for the soon-to-be Qatar-called-up striker.
Ask defender Ehtan Pinnock playing a back pass to his keeper only for that ball to fell short of reaching the target man with a lively Almirón anticipating the mistake, taking advantage of the confusion, beating Raya to the leather before dribbling past him, and ultimately putting it into the net for Newcastle’s four on the day.
That second-half goal, of course, followed Bruno’s wizardry to make it 3-1 in the 56th after a marvelous press play by the whole Magpies squad on their left flank, recovering the ball after swarming Jean Baptiste and forcing him to lose the rock.
Howe, entirely bragging at this point, added Wood to the fire. Pun absolutely intended. He had thrown Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin in, both returning in a very under-the-radar-ish way compared to the high expectations and anticipation of the Geordie faithful before the game and the upsetting feeling of finding out that not one but both of them had been left out of the Magpies starting XI.
Targett and Elliot Anderson joined Wood on the pitch by the 84th, and Ethan Pinnock decided that it was time to score himself an (own) goal putting a cross from Joelinton past Raya’s goalposts.
A lot of folks out there are already saying that this is a mammoth victory considering the context. In all honesty, and at the very least on paper, the squad picked by Howe missed a few of the better players in Newcastle’s 25-man Premier League squad. ASM would be picked to start any and every single game. The same goes for the reborn Joelinton, a natural left-back in Targett, and the record-breaking-signee Alexander Isak. Are we sure that is how Newcastle are going to operate going forward, let alone with such a great tinkerer as Howe making the final decisions every weekend?
If yesterday’s game proved something is that Newcastle might still not be the Big Six club every Geordie wants it to be. That is most probably a fact. But few—if any at all—teams in the Premier League boast such depth in their squads as the Magpies do.
The starting XI is far from one that gets easily picked by itself these days. The backup (Murphy) of the backup (Ryan Fraser) of Allan Saint-Maximin has now started back-to-back games on the right wing while scoring one goal. Joe Willock is coming off two marvelous outings, perhaps his best two games since signing with Newcastle from Arsenal. He, and Sean Longstaff, have displaced Joelinton. Jonjo Shelvey, out since the start of the season, once looked like a lock to automatically make it to the XI once available, but that can’t be far from a sure thing these days.
Newcastle is traveling south to Manchester next weekend and there should be nothing stopping this same XI from starting that game—the third one in a row, that’d be. ASM? Great. Joelinton? Extraordinary. Isak and Targett? Otherworldly. Shelvey? Inching closer.
Best of all, though? Newcastle is a relentless football machine made out of interchangeable and equally valuable and replaceable pieces. Howe take a bow.
The other/bad United next on Sunday away from home at Old Trafford. Manchester plays Omonia Nicosia on Thursday, too, so that’s a win for Newcastle already when it comes to having fresher leagues. It’s Everton three days after the United game back at SJP.
Howay the lads!