Newcastle United 2 Nottingham Forest 0, St James’ Park, Premier League, 6/Aug/22, KO: 15:00, Att: 52,245

It’s a new day, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new life…

An hour was about to tick on the clock. England’s number one had pitched his deckchair in his area, put a handkerchief on his head, and begun to build sandcastles to wile away the time. Yet another promising attack had run into that same sand, and our 793rd corner had amounted to nothing…

Cue Fabian the dreamboat. Cue an utter thunderbastard arrow into the top corner. Cue relief, cue release. Cue three points.

It was absolutely the least we deserved. For fifteen minutes, Forest were like rabbits in the headlights. We snapped into everything, and they couldn’t get out of their own box. We were averaging a corner every three minutes, and the only concern was our inability to pick out 8 foot 2 Dan Burn with a cross from a dead ball.

But it set the tone. And that tone did not change for 90 minutes. Weirdly, clear-cut chances were thin on the ground – we’ll come back to that – but dominance of territory and possession was absolute. The midfield (notably minus the leaden-footed Shelvey) was dynamic. Every second ball was won. The pressing was relentless. This really was a new dawn, as far from the listless, aimless squad of 12 months ago as it’s possible to get.

In that sense, the mood on the pitch in the opening exchanges only reflected the mood in the city. The sun was shining, and the world was a wonderful place to be. The shackles of the last 15 years had been released and we were determined to enjoy the experience.

The train up was full. Even social media was gloriously unambiguously positive. And as we trundled across the Tyne, the hairs stoodup on the back of the neck. Well before 11am, crowds were spilling out onto the pavements. All the lads and lasses were there, and all truly had smiling faces.

The only frustration was that we were singularly failing to translate our dominance into goals. Again and again, it was Miggy whose movement opened up space on the right of the box. He was involved in everything, by far our most  important player. But the final ball was lacking. Plus ça change.

Meanwhile, it was clear that Saint Maximin had had a pre-season re-focus. He was a constant outlet on the left and much more willing to pass than ever before. He linked up play, and the histrionic collapses under pressure were only occasional. All the same, he seemed to miss the two best chances of the match: a powder puff header in the first half and a clear shot at Henderson in the second. On both occasions, Miggy was the provider.

We’re just not used to this. More than 60% possession (it felt more like 90%), 23 shots to 5, 10 on target to none, 11 corners to one. This was a team that was physically fit, supremely well-drilled, confident, and (heaven forbid) welcomed the ball like an old friend, rather than the jilted ex at a wedding party.

And the heartbeat throughout was the midfield. Willock drove forward and made smart runs off the ball, while also getting a foot in where necessary. Joelinton was immense, shielding the ball, driving forward, somehow impossibly coming out with the ball in every challenge. Unfortunately, he also seemed to have more shots than anyone else. But let’s not dwell. Who was it who scouted him as a striker? Thank God he only cost forty million.

And then there’s Bruno. A four-man midfield in one, the ball glued to his foot, gliding effortlessly between lesser mortals. If not every pass came off, it was only because such a burden lay on him. Midfield anchor and creative influence all at once. Give him a real no. 10 to play behind Wilson and we’ll be a team transformed.

And that was the real lesson from today. For all our dominance, we fashioned relatively few obvious chances. More importantly, when they came, they didn’t fall to Wilson who was largely well marked.

The exception came late in the second half. Big Joe pushed onto the byline at the Leazes End before pulling the ball back. Somehow Wilson defied all logic and the established laws of physics to flick the ball goalward and over Forest loanee Henderson. At last we could breathe.

As injury time approached Trippier was to be seen sat casually on the advertising hoardings, as the defence vs attack training carried on. There was still time for (not quite as big as BDB) big Sven to make his debut to rapturous applause, his every touch oléed as if Kenny Wharton were sitting on the ball.

We’ll face bigger challenges this season. And soon. But, my God, this was just the new life that wor flags proclaimed from the Gallowgate.

And you know what? I’m feeling good.

Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731