jLast Monday we got to watch United doing it for the last time on their home turf playing before the St James’ Park crowd for one last game before leaving SJP until next August. On Sunday, they did it for the actual last time this season visiting Turf Moor to battle against Burnley—which themselves were facing a grueling fight-in-the-distance against Leeds in a bout to avoid relegation to the Championship.
At the end of the day, with all whistles blown, it couldn’t be for Burnley as Leeds bested them on the table and sent the Clarets down to the second tier of English football, something the lads from Burnley had avoided for more than five years straight.
One thing about this game, starting with the pre-match announcement of the lineups, was that it was going to be a high-stakes one for one side and, while not playing for anything, a reasonably fought one for the other given the Starting XIs. Newcastle went all-in with a very unchanged XI, same as Burnley, with just the addition of Jamaal Lascelles and Kieran Trippier to the defensive line—the former because of Fabian Schar’s Monday concussion, and the latter in exchange for a lower-lever Emile Krafth.
This match definitely wasn’t as ridiculous as the one taking place in Manchester at the same time, but what went down in the first seven minutes, or rather what happened around six minutes into it, was just bonkers. Joelinton went for a header and upon landing back on the grass, he shouted at the referee calling for play stoppage seemingly with a problem in his foot. Turned out he suffered a freaking bone-deep laceration. In other words, coming from Newcastle’s doctors, “you could see the bone”. Jesus Christ.
The first chance came 10 minutes later with Jacob Murphy having entered the field in exchange for the injured Joelinton. Murphy went from his natural right wing to the left flank on a throw-in to receive the ball with Burnley packing their own third, and although he barely touched the ball once he still found himself close to the small area, forced a steal pulled off by Callum Wilson on Nathan Collins, and ultimately saw Bruno attempt a shot right from outside the penalty area stopped by Nick Pope and sent flying out of the rectangle by Collins who wanted nothing to do with the ball.
Oh, destiny. That blast to the corner kick preceded what would be the defining moment of the game, and Nathan Collins knew that’d be the case from the second he did... something, I guess? The handball was blatantly clear, so much so, that I don’t even know what the hell Collins was thinking about when he launched his arm toward the floated ball preventing Sean Longstaff from attempting a header, but also serving a penalty-to-be-called to the lads over VAR, who had zero to no doubts about making things right.
Callum Wilson, of course, didn’t miss the chance and put Newcastle up one-nil with 20 minutes gone as Leeds scored their own 1-0 against Brentford only to be called off by a teeny-tiny shoulder offside. Cold world for both Burnley and Leeds, though clearly less so for Leeds as their 0-0 draw was good with Burnley dropping all three points at that point.
Two minutes before halftime and with five minutes added to the usual 45, Newcastle had a massive chance by the way of a counterattack launched by United by the way of Allan Saint-Maximin. The winger, quick and pacey as he’s always been, carried the ball from the left side slightly to the middle of the pitch, found himself in front and approaching Nick Pope, but finished the play with a rather soft shot stopped by the Clarets’ keeper without needing too much of an effort. Should have been 2-0 for Newcastle entering the halftime, but luck—nor ASM—didn’t have it.
As the maps above depict, it was a classic-under-Howe first half for Newcastle. Creation from the back, combinations on the deep wings, and absolute avoidance of the central corridor in favor of exploiting the flanks taking advantage of Miguel Almirón and Saint-Maximin and their speed, while also playing it nicely to Callum Wilson’s skill set. Not so great for Burnley in the first half when it came to building interesting plays, though, as the Clarets didn’t really have a single dangerous chance through the first 45 minutes and had a rather scattered own-half of actions with plenty of action on the right-wing but no real threat brought to Martin Dubravka’s confines.
The second half, as expected, was totally different beast to handle by Newcastle. With Burnley starting to feel the heat of Championship football and Leeds taking the lead against Brentford—Raphinha’s penalty taken and scored 56 minutes in—the motto of “score goals or die trying” became the Clarets’ ethos. Even then, though, it was United who was bringing the goodies on the pitch and creating the most dangerous chances.
First, Collins missed on clearing a ball in the small area that could have ended in an own goal for the Burnley defender very easily. Pope saved the blunder. Minutes after that, it was Miggy who had an extraordinary chance to leave Callum Wilson all alone in the penalty spot after a run from ASM found the South American moving wide to the space from the center of the pitch... only for Almirón to decide to shoot the ball and proceed to send it to the stratosphere instead of passing an isolated Wilson who would have just had to touch the ball to put it in the back of the net.
Good for Almiron, one can guess judging by Wilson’s massive anger at Miggy for not assisting him, Wilson found the net just seconds after that miss on a very similar play, only this time it was Miggy with the second-to-last pass to ASM, and the Frenchman assisting Wilson for a tap-in that saw Newcastle go up 2-0 with just half an hour to go. That meant a three-goal comeback for the Clarets with Leeds one up in their game, which sounded a little bit more a fantasy than a realistic outcome given how both games had gone up to that point.
Even with Burnley’s relatively quick reaction—making it 1-2 and launching their bid for a comeback that would save them from hell—thanks to Maxwell Cornet’s volley into the goal after Dubravka deflected his first attempt, things will end badly for the claret and blue bunch. With 20 minutes still to go, though, the hopes and spirit remained high even though Burnley were sitting three points behind Leeds then and there.
Fast-forward fewer than 10 minutes, and Brentford had tied the affair with Leeds to put a 1-1 on the scoreboard and bring Burnley just one goal away from salvation if things stood put in Brentford and they could draw with Newcastle themselves. Then, true chaos ensued with the goalscorer from Brentford getting a red card quickly after that tying score, leaving Leeds with an 11-against-10 chance... while Wout Weghorst had the clearest chance ever for Burnley, only missing on putting Ashley Barnes’ cross by (maybe) half a foot or five-to-ten centimeters, whatever measure you prefer.
That only happened in the 79th minute, two before Burnley had another massive chance saved by Matt Target close to the goal line frustrating the Clarets for the nth time in the second half and still leaving them in the cold, facing relegation with fewer than 10 minutes left to play. This being the spectacular and never-boring Premier League it is, Leeds found the net as late as in the 94th minute of play with Jack Harrison finding paydirt after shooting a ball off a cleared corner kick.
With Leeds one up and Burnley one down, outcomes were written in the stars at this point as the former club was sitting three points clear of the latter with Burnley still down one to Newcastle. Max Cornet had another bunch of chances on Dubby’s end but he could never find a clear path to put the ball through, and even if he had it would have all gone for nothing as he was offside in the first place. 90 seconds later, the final whistle was blown, the referee indicated it was time to pack the summer vacation bags, and Burnely was welcomed to their new home in the Championship with Leeds dodging the fastest bullet that had ever been shot their way.
Newcastle played this game for the win. There were incentives on the line for the Magpies, and although not so pressing as getting relegated, they for sure were still substantial and more than worth achieving. Burnley spent the last 45 minutes clearly tilting the field in their offensive favor, but at the end of the day, they never got enough mojo to put Newcastle in danger, let alone pull off the full comeback.
It’s incredible how after a putrid start to the season that saw Newcastle and Burnley sharing very similar maladies, one ended the season nearly 10 positions above the other. The work Eddie Howe has completed on Tyneside through the past few months is absolutely staggering. Newcastle are finishing the second half of the season third in the table only behind Manchester City and Liverpool in points earned after flipping the calendar page.
The lads, of course, also did their part in helping the coach achieve his goals and those of the whole organization. Men that will most probably leave Newcastle this summer got their chances—shout-out Matt Ritchie with his one-minute performance on Sunday—and some of them take full advantage of those to make a strong case in making believers out the of the board and Howe in their abilities and their worth entering next season.
A few dried, sunny-bathed months are ahead for Newcastle and all other clubs out there. Money will be spent and players will come and go, but one thing is for sure, and that is that Newcastle entirely avoided Burnley’s fate for, maybe, one last time. It’s all bright looking forward and chances are the Geordie Army doesn’t need to care or worry about those pesky relegation positions in the short, mid, and long-term future. Howay the lads!