Another weekend, another win. It feels right at home for Newcastle fans, who have gone on to enjoy four consecutive victories by the Geordie Army. It’s been three weeks without knowing defeat for Newcastle and one has to wonder what could have been had the takeover taken place a couple of months before it actually did, or had some stupid games ended on the positive side of things instead of in soul-crushing draws (against Watford) or defeats (against Everton). One of the teams fighting for survival with Newcastle no more than five months ago, Norwich, hosted the Magpies on Saturday while sitting dead-last in the Premier League and, most probably, needing a miracle to stay in the top category of English football when all is said and done.
Eddie Howe deployed a smoothly rotated side in Carrow Road featuring four new names (Joe Willock, Jacob Murphy, Sean Longstaff, and Jamaal Lascelles) in the starting XI compared to the one that went against Crystal Palace last Wednesday. Joelinton went back to the forward strata with Willock taking on attacking midfielder duties protected by a holding-midfielder in Bruno and, at least for a brief early period, a disciplined Allan Saint-Maximin moving up and down the left-wing more than he usually does.
Norwich were good for a few minutes at the start of the game playing host at home and truly fighting for their lives on Saturday, as impossible as pulling off the feat of salvation would be for the canaries. In fact, the first five minutes of the match were horrific for a Newcastle squad that didn’t even get to touch the ball once... until of course, they did. Bruno (who else) filtered a long pass to Jacob Murphy seven minutes into the game but Murphy couldn’t make the most of a rather nice chance.
Willock started to show things, or better said, to offer glimpses of what is on tap for him a few years from now. Taking advantage of an asleep Magpies bunch that froze looking at a ball getting cleared after a cross from the right side, Norwich launched a dangerous run forward initiated by Lees-Melou in his own half and kept alive by a phenomenal Teemu Pukki. Truth be told, this play was a dangerous call for the Black and White to stay alert as Norwich easily painted the faces of everybody from midfield down with a rather simplistic counter-attacking play on the open field. Only Kieran Dowell could have missed the target as he did, blowing a great set of patient moves by his Finnish teammate... Alas, the 20th position in the table.
I don’t want to say Norwich didn’t do anything else other than that in the remainder of the match, but I wouldn’t be wrong stating it. Anyway, there was a slight period of agreed-upon peace between the 25th and 35th minute only broken by a war proposition brought by Dan Burn heading a corner kick a little wide of the Canaries’ goal. Newcastle was playing for their own enjoyment, so they never rushed a thing, nor felt forced to multiply their efforts, much less augmenting any sort of potential risk with careless passes or anything similar. And the tamed approach—facilitated by a very innocent Norwich—paid off.
With 35 minutes of the first half already on the books, Newcastle dumped their first goal of the night on the Green and Yellow church after a legit bad pass by Saint-Maximin inside the area that somehow found its way to Joelinton, who didn’t even give a second of thought to his right-footed curling shot to smash the net and put the 1-0 up. It was a beautiful stroke indeed, and quite a nice way to cap his 100th PL appearance with Newcastle.
Although of course, Joelinton’s night for the ages didn’t finish there and then, and just a few minutes later and entering the final five of the first half he received a pass from Murphy to finish an extraordinary counter started by a marvelous pass to the space by Bruno (who else). Hockey assist for the Brazilian, goal for the... Brazilian too, I guess.
Coming off the locker room, things couldn’t have gone better for the Magpies. It wasn’t a stroke of luck. No, sir. It was an absolute display of determination, attention to detail, work, and mad talent by Guimaraes to put the ball inside the net just under five minutes into the second half. We’ve reached a point where I’m truly running out of thoughts, words, feelings, and everything else to describe how impressively massive the signing of Bruno has turned out to be for Newcastle throughout the second half of the season and the run toward a top-10 finish.
Hefty price, they said. Alright, I say.
Bruno smelled blood, knew a chance was about to come his way—or, most probably, he just forced that chance into existence with his savvy actions. Playing DM yesterday, he still went up the pitch to put Norwich defenders and initiators under pressure, beat the Canary’s half-back to Tim Krul’s pass, recovered possession, planted himself in front of the veteran goalkeeper, and flicked the ball over him for the most gorgeous goal of the season by a mile. See it to believe it.
I took quite a lot of notes through the 40 minutes that followed Bruno’s goal in the 49th minute. Probably even more than I had already taken up until that point in the match. But being realistic, the game was over by the 55th minute—if not earlier.
One had to feel for Norwich because after that third hit landed in their stomach it was very clear they were playing for the sake of playing. Norwich were trying to climb a 90-degree mountain. You have to put in their skin and not even then would you come close to feeling what they must have felt on the pitch yesterday. The inevitability of relegation. The sealed fate of playing Championship football next August with a burning sun hitting their domes while they think about the good old Premier days and the chances missed to stay safe.
At the other end of the ground, Newcastle just coasted through the final whistle. Joelinton left the game banged up a bit a few minutes after facilitating one last interesting play by Norwich that also included an ill-timed tackle by Bruno. With things going as they were, though, that could only be followed by a no-engine flight by Dubravka to save the foul kick and bury Norwich’s souls deeper down Carrow Road’s grass.
Ritchie and Gayle got some minutes of playing time late in the game, and so did Almirón. Even in passive-mode Newcastle still found a way to give the impression of keeping playing bully ball, although that was just the product of a physically and psychologically exhausted Norwich side.
The ref blew the whistle, Newcastle celebrated, the lads packed their bags, and it’s on for next weekend’s affair against Liverpool at St James’ Park. Let’s hope they keep it up.