Victory at Norwich continues Newcastle’s remarkable turnaround in form under Eddie Howe
NORWICH: No wins from the opening 14. Ten from their last 14. There’s a remarkable symmetry to Newcastle United’s topsy-turvy Premier League season and, after another comfortable win at Norwich City, for Eddie Howe, the trajectory remains very much an upward one.
With a backdrop of green and yellow, United’s Brazilian contingent stole the show at Carrow Road as Newcastle’s $52 million duo Joelinton, then Bruno Guimaraes, netted the goals that sent the Magpies to ninth position in the Premier League table.
Ninth, to many, may not seem all that significant. But, given United started the calendar year in 19th with just 11 points to their name, today felt very much like a moment for Howe and his players.
Head coach Howe hinted at changes in his pre-match press conference — and changes are exactly what he delivered, with four starting XI adjustments raising a few eyebrows.
Out went Crystal Palace match-winner Miguel Almiron along with Jonjo Shelvey, Chris Wood, and Fabian Schar. In came Jacob Murphy, Sean Longstaff, Jamaal Lascelles, and Joe Willock.
It was a disjointed start by United with Howe putting now regular midfielder Joelinton up top as a central striker — a role he has rarely occupied this campaign. Chances came and went for both sides in a frenetic opening, with little in the way of quality and plenty in the way of scrap.
Former Canaries winger Murphy went close with a looping volley, having been found by man of the moment Guimaraes.
At the other end, cut open on the break, United were lucky not to fall behind when Teemu Pukki rounded Martin Dubravka, then found Kieran Dowell, who hammered over the top with the goal at his mercy.
Sensing things weren’t going Newcastle’s way, Howe tweaked the system — and it paid instant dividends.
Moving Allan Saint-Maximin into a striker role and putting Joelinton out left was a masterstroke and, within 11 first-half minutes, the landscape dramatically shifted from one of level uncertainty to United two-goal dominance.
The first goal came when Murphy burst in from the right past the hapless Dimitris Giannoulis and squared for Saint-Maximin, who then laid on to Joelinton who nearly fired through the net via the underside of the bar in emphatic fashion.
What a way to mark an impressive milestone — his 100th Premier League start — for United, especially when you’ve not exactly been lauded for your goals. And, he wasn’t finished there as he made it 2-0 soon after, with Murphy again instrumental.
A Guimaraes through ball was latched on to by Murphy and as he pulled the trigger, a block challenge from former United man Grant Hanley squirmed out to Joelinton, who did with his left what he so impressively did with his right 11 minutes earlier.
Strangely, both goals came largely out of the blue, with United not having things all their own way. The second half wasn’t to be so even, though, as the Magpies put their foot on the pedal.
And an unforced error made it three goals to the good just after the break as Tim Krul, a custodian between the sticks for United for more than a decade, gift-wrapped one for Guimaraes.
A pass intended for his central midfield was anticipated by the razor-sharp Brazilian, and the finish, a dinked chip over Krul, put the icing on the cake for Newcastle.
From then on in it was party time for United as each pass was greeted by an “ole” from the 2,600-strong traveling contingent, and Newcastle’s stars from South America were serenaded with laments that will last the night away on the trains, planes and automobiles back to Tyneside.
The win saw Newcastle climb from 11th to ninth, even if only until Brighton & Hove Albion play Southampton on Sunday. A win for the Seagulls would see United drop back down to 10th. Even considering that, never mind stating it as fact, would seem like lunacy just a few short months ago.
What Howe and United’s players are proving, week-in, week-out now in the top flight, is that anything seems possible at St. James’ Park under the ownership of PIF and the positivity garnered from that changeover in ownership.
And while the plan is very much of a steady build on Tyneside under Saudi tutelage off the field, those plans are being accelerated by actions on it.
The idea may well have been to make sure a top 10 place was a must at Newcastle next season, having fought much of the campaign with the relegation-threatened at the foot of the table. However, this team might well do that this season.
So, what next? It seems ill-guided to doubt whether Howe and his players will mount a European challenge in 2022/23. Sadly, the charge from January onward, in which United’s form is only bettered by Liverpool, has come maybe a month too late to make a return to the continent for next season.
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