NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe looks to be within touching distance of his first trophy at Newcastle United, albeit a personal, rather than collective one.
Howe’s Magpies made it three wins from four to finish off the month of February, putting the head coach in the running for Premier League manager of the month after the team’s unbeaten exploits.
More importantly, the gap to the top flight’s bottom three was again stretched to four points, having been cut to two in the week, following a 2-0 victory over 10-man Brentford in West London.
Goals from Joelinton and Joe Willock in the opening 45 were enough to seal this one, as Howe’s Newcastle continued their charge away from the Premier League basement boys.
Sticking with the same team who served Newcastle so well last week, the Magpies got off to a flier at the Brentford Community Stadium — and their cause was helped when Josh Dasilva’s shocking challenge saw referee Mike Dean brandish red.
There were just 12 minutes on the clock when Matt Targett’s attempt to get the ball under control on the edge of the Bees’ box was thwarted illegally by the Brentford full-back.
In fact, it was a shockingly timed tackle, that on another occasion could easily have broken the on-loan defender’s leg. Luckily, though, this time it was just a card with no injury after a short VAR check by Dean.
Often it can be tough to break teams down when they go down to 10 men, but the Magpies made light work of it, spraying passes from left to right to stretch the play at will. Targett and Ryan Fraser were a particular thorn in the side of the home outfit.
The duo both carved out headed opportunities for the as yet goalless Chris Wood. Both chances were headed straight at David Raya in the Brentford goal. Both chances were gilt-edged and should have put Newcastle in front.
While Wood is struggling in front of goal, Joelinton, a man who knows all about that kind of thing, is thriving in this Howe setup.
Another colossus-like performance in his fresh midfield role was capped with yet another goal, this his second of the season, and second against Brentford.
A chipped Fraser cross found the towering Brazilian, who crashed a header past the helpless Raya for 1-0.
Soon after it was two goals to the good for the dominant Magpies as they broke at speed from a home corner with defender Fabian Schar taking down a high ball, beating the last man before putting one on a plate for Willock, who made it two in two with a stroked finish, having gone 21 games without a goal previously.
After the break the game was a little more fractured. Where Newcastle were pass-perfect in the opener, they let that dominance shift more in the second 45.
Having turned provider for the second, Schar went close on 47 minutes with a close-range header, but apart from that it was the home side who began to assert themselves, despite being a man light.
The introduction of Christian Eriksen off the bench — his emotional return to senior football after suffering a heart attack in Euro 2020 playing for Denmark — brought about a renewed confidence in the hosts, as hopes of a comeback threatened to impact what had, to this point, been a Newcastle-controlled encounter.
However, the introduction of Newcastle’s own magician off the bench Bruno Guimaraes helped to put out any fires, taking the sting out of the Bees’ mini-revival.
As ole after ole rang out from the corner holding the traveling Magpies hordes, Newcastle saw out this one with relative ease in the end, as the hosts understandably ran out of steam.
Vitaly Janelt had Brentford’s best chance of the game in added time, but Martin Dubravka, a spectator for much of this one, was equal to it.
And with that the Magpies went seven games unbeaten, recording four wins in their last five, which is some turnaround given the Magpies won only one of their first 20 this campaign.
If Howe does claim the manager of the month title for February it will be well-deserved. His tireless work behind closed doors has not gone unnoticed by the club hierarchy. Finally, those results are flowing on the pitch.
And while safety is not yet secured, with 25 points on the board it is edging ever closer.
The future at Newcastle is bright, of that there is no doubt, and while the not-too-distant past has been dark in nature, the present is delivering some much needed light, pride and most importantly, points.
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