Souvenirs from the smoke…

I have to admit that I was nervy about this one, even before the rumours of ASM being absent began to circulate on social media. Already shorn of Wilson and Trippier, how would we cope if it came to pass that we were also without our ‘only creative player’, our ‘only goal threat’, our ‘talisman’?

Well let me say now that I owe the squad an apology, because I needn’t have worried – this is no longer Steve Bruce’s meek, insipid, devoid of confidence version of Newcastle United.

No longer are we dependent upon tactics that effectively amount to “Get it to Allan and see what he can do” – under the stewardship of Eddie Howe, Newcastle United have reinvented themselves as a bona fide Premier League team that is no longer here simply to have its belly tickled but instead is one that believes in its ability to take games to the opposition, and from the first whistle yesterday that new-found belief was there for all to see.

The first 5-10 minutes saw United stroke the ball about with a confidence that made a mockery of claims that the quality of the players have always been ‘the problem’. West Ham could have had no argument had we been 2-0 up as we took the sting out of a crowd baying for a victory that would have seen them take their place in the top 4.

Newcastle United, going to a top 4 contender and controlling the game, looking comfortable at the back and dangerous in the final third… OK, own up – who the fuck has kidnapped Newcastle United and replaced them with a team of competent footballers.

Our triumvirate of Joes, Willock, Joelinton and Jonjo, made Declan Rice – by a mile the best English midfielder in the Premier League – look less than ordinary, our own Geordie colossus BDB played Antonio so well that West Ham’s target man emigrated to the wing for large parts of the game, and the sex god that is Fabian Schär became so bored that he took to driving towards the Hammers penalty area on at least three occasions that I can remember. Jamal Lascelles will do well to get a start that isn’t injury enforced in what remains of the season.

And then we come on to Matty Targett, the least celebrated recruit of the January transfer window, who, let’s be honest, looks like he’d be more suited as a history teacher than a Premier League footballer. Of our starting 11, Targett probably faced the biggest challenge in the form of arguably the most in form winger in the division, Jarrod Bowen.

Again though, I needn’t have worried as Matty gave his second 9/10 performance in two starts in Black and White. It’s reported that when he got home last night and emptied his pockets onto the bedside table, Targett’s girlfriend enquired if “the little balding fella in claret and blue” was a souvenir of his day trip to London?

To a man, this United side are a completely different animal to the one that we depressingly trudged up Barrack Road to watch only a few short months ago – where previously clubs would scour the fixture list hoping to see Newcastle United home or away on the horizon, they will now dread the thought of coming up against Eddie Howes revitalised Mags, and it’s utterly glorious to witness the change in the NUFC narrative.

All season long, friends and work colleagues have given me strange looks as I’ve told them we wouldn’t be relegated, and with hindsight this may actually have been me mistakenly seeing things through Black and White goggles. However those looks of pity and bemusement have now changed to a begrudging acknowledgment that I was right all along.

We. Are. Staying. Up.

And yes, you can bookmark this if you want…

Lee Forster @LeeDForster

You want Rice with your dinner, Joe?

Anyone with any doubt and, I confess at one point I was one of them, about how much of a difference Eddie Howe has made to Newcastle since he came in, need look no further than the awkward bowels of the London Stadium.

This wasn’t a United version 2.0, supercharged with a host of new signings. This was a team that had more than a whiff of the old regime about it.

Shorn of St Maximin and Trippier as well as Wilson (who gets forgotten and someone who would already have us safe if fit), it was left to players who were bit-part figures and some who even were figures of fun who complimented the new arrivals that did play, to produce a performance worthy of a point against a team who are chasing a Champions league spot.

United started well and caught West Ham by surprise. An operation surely planned and an operation which had the home side slightly off kilter all day, they looked ordinary.

We were not perfect ourselves, but this made for an end-to-end game which went all the way until the 95th minute with it all up in the air.

If anything, I thought (I know I’m being greedy) a bit more nous, belief and skill in attack and we could have won it, and no one really would have complained.

Burn and Joelinton were the picks for me, the latter continually making Rice’s day a miserable one. Who could have said that six months ago?

A point gained then and despite the other results squeezing things a little, it’s not us that should be overly worried right now, it’s the teams above us.

Scott Robson

Revenge of the Roundheads

As one wise head in our WhatsApp group commented on his way to the depressingly soulless Olympic Stadium, it was a distinctly Bruce-like team that Eddie was sending out. Without the genuine quality provided by Trippier, Saint-Maximin, and Wilson, this was an eleven apparently replete only with mediocrity. Krafth, Murphy, and Wood were hardly the names expected in a PIF-inspired post-window dreamworld. Nor Targett, Burn, and Shelvey, for that matter. Roundheads not cavaliers, literally in the case of our new captain. Meanwhile, Bruno festered bafflingly on the bench. Never change a winning team, as the soon-to-be former and handsomely compensated manager of West Brom would no doubt have agreed.

And then came kick-off and a black-and-white team that started like an absolute train. More encouragingly still, we settled after that bright start and put together 45 minutes of controlled, possession-based football the likes of which we have not seen for years. Even when Krafth gave away an idiotic free-kick and our marking went AWOL, we remained much the better team. Willock’s equaliser was the least both he and the team deserved. This was as far from a Bruce team as it’s possible to imagine. Disciplined, well-drilled, physically fit, and with a clearly defined shape and gameplan. Targett and Burn were immense. The only downside was our complete lack of quality and cutting-edge in the final third.

And there’s the rub and what we really learned on Saturday: two utterly incompatible truths that will define our fate this season. On the one hand, we cannot afford to be without ASM, our one true difference maker in attack and the only likely source of goals, even given Willock’s welcome resurgence. On the other, it can hardly be a coincidence that our best overall team performance came in his absence. Without his helter-skelter dribbling and accompanying profligacy in possession, we simultaneously posed much less of a threat while also being able to control and nullify a top-six side in a way we have previously entirely failed to do so. We played with rare shape and purpose, two words not readily associated with the absent Frenchman.

How to reintegrate his brilliance without destroying the control and structure that were central to our performance on Saturday? Therein lies the key to our survival.

Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731

Storm Eunice may have caused travel chaos for the nation and the Newcastle squad but that didn’t stop the 3,000 travelling Geordies from making the 570-mile round trip to the capital.

Coming into today’s fixture, Eddie Howe’s side were looking for their fourth Premier League win in a row following success against Leeds United, Everton & Aston Villa. They would be under no illusions that this would be a tough game as David Moyes’s West Ham United are challenging for a Champions League place.

David Moyes made three changes to the side that drew at Leicester, Kurt Zouma returned to the starting XI in place of Diop, while Ryan Fredericks and Said Benrahma also replaced Coufal and Lanzini. Eddie Howe was forced to make a handful of changes to his starting eleven, Trippier and Manquillo are both out injured, while Saint-Maximin also missed out. Emil Krafth, Matt Targett and Jacob Murphy took their places.

Newcastle got the game underway and Brazilian sensation Joelinton forced Hammers keeper Lucas Fabianski into a low block with only two minutes on the clock. The visiting side controlled the early possession stakes and looked calm on the ball. West Ham went close to opening the scoring around the 20-minute mark when Jarrod Bowen’s effort from close range had to be tipped onto the crossbar by Martin Dubvravka. West Ham broke the deadlock on 32 minutes when Emil Krafth clumsily barged over Michail Antonio just outside the box, Aaron Creswell curved the ball in from the resulting free kick and Craig Dawson was left unmarked to nod the ball home. Newcastle deservedly equalised just before half time when Joe Willock prodded the ball over the line from a cross by Ryan Fraser that was only part cleared by Declan Rice.

West Ham started the second half with more intent than the visiting side but they couldn’t muster up anything too serious to threaten Martin Dubravka in the Newcastle goal. Fabian Schär tried his luck at goal with a long-range effort after making a forward run but his effort was easily stopped by Fabianski. Joe Willock unleashed a curling effort towards goal with 25 minutes to go but his strike going just wide of the posts. The next opportunity came from down the opposite end of the pitch when Michail Antonio got into the box after picking the ball up in the centre of the park but he couldn’t keep his effort under control and it sailed high and wide. With just a couple of minutes left on the clock, Declan Rice fired at goal but Dan Burn was on form to make a vital bock to keep the scores level. Despite it being an end-to-end game, neither side could get that final goal and the match finished 1-1.

Many fans predicted a draw for this game and they got it spot on. Newcastle thoroughly deserved their share of the points today especially with the players that are unavailable through injury. Joe Willock deserved his goal after his performances over the past few weeks, the former arsenal youngster looking like the player he was towards the end of last season. Dan Burn had another solid game at the heart of the defence and rarely put a foot wrong. Despite going a goal down in the first half, the magpies didn’t sit back which is something that they would have done if the new management weren’t in place. Unbeaten in six, 5 points above the relegation zone, the resurrection continues. Newcastle United are back!

Jack Sutton – @jsuttonwrites