“He’s a bit different to what we have, he’ll definitely be involved“, Steve Bruce uttered when asked during yesterday’s press conference about our new loan signing Joe Willock, and today he was… and boy did he make an impact.
As the line-up was announced for a must-win game at home to Southampton, few of us were surprised to see the on-loan Arsenal young gun drafted straight in to the starting XI, especially given the injuries at centre half meaning the ever dependable Issac Hayden was shoehorned once again in to the back four alongside Schar, thus freeing up a space in midfield.
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So Willock joined the not so dynamic duo of Jonjo Shelvey & Jeff Hendrick in a 3-man midfield. We were all excited to see what this lad could do. Walking out on the pitch there was no sign of nerves, just focus and a hint of a smile from a player excited to start his first match for Newcastle United. We started on the front foot and Willock settled in very quickly getting some nice early touches. You could see the lad had composure to his game.
The first sign of his attacking mentality came when Wilson pulled out wide dragging the Saints’ centre half out to him. Now usually when our number 13 does this, it takes about 20 mins before our usually pedestrian midfield get anywhere near him, and by this point he’s lost the ball or had to try and take on the whole back four himself. Not today. No, as soon as he looked for the cut back, there was Joe Willock steaming into the box available for the chance. On this occasion, it didn’t come off, but it was a sign of things to. Come.
Shortly after that, the Saints broke, looking to slip in Adams and guess who was there again putting in a well timed challenge to win the ball? Joe Willock! His debut certainly showed signs of early promise. Then came the moment. The wizard that is ASM robbed the Saints of possession and headed for the box. Again, the French maestro is normally not used to having anyone other than Wilson in the box when he’s got the opponents on the ropes, but not today.
Arriving in the box to calmly slot away his first of hopefully many goals for United was Joe Willock. Shades of “Proper” attacking midfielders of yesterday in the shape of Lee, Speed, and Dyer, Willock’s run was fantastic, moving from defence to attack with pace and finishing in such a cool manner and leaving us all smiling ear to ear. Some other flashes of brilliance and encouraging signs of link up with Wilson came with a cheeky little chest back control before Callum uncharacteristically didn’t make a sweet enough connection with his volley, but this is Newcastle United so the afternoon was about to change, as much as the grim weather.
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Despite going 3-1 up and seemingly cruising in the game, we reverted back to type and made a meal of things. Giving away a free kick within shooting distance to the side with arguably the best free kick taker in the league was only going to end one way. A hell of a strike made it 3-2 and we were up against it. A situation made far worse when the sad reality of what Willock was now playing alongside was evident, Hendrick’s stupidity reducing us to 10 men.
So, for the rest of the game Willock had to help out defensively as he and his team mates fought and held out for 3 huge points. Much bigger tests are upcoming in the shape of both Man Utd and Chelsea, but all in all a very impressive debut from our new number 28. Let’s have a look at some of his key stats.
Shots on goal: 1
Pass completion: 60%
Key passes: 2
Not bad for his first outing eh? Especially in a mental game like that. We’ve been crying out for some time for a proper “box to box midfielder” and, at last, we may have actually found one. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more of this bright exciting young talent in the Black and White shirt.
CHRIS CURRIE – @wig82