Newcastle United 1-1 Norwich City: FIVE key takeaways as positivity remains on Tyneside despite winless Premier League start continuing
It is fair to say things haven’t exactly gone to plan for Eddie Howe as Newcastle United head coach so far – and Tuesday night’s match against Norwich City proved no different.
The 44-year-old took to the St. James’s Park dugout for the first time as United boss for a relegation ‘six-pointer’ between the Premier League’s bottom two clubs.
It was a belated welcome for Howe, who was forced to self-isolate for the previous home match against Brentford after testing positive for coronavirus on the eve of the match.
A 3-3 draw against The Bees was followed by a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday which left The Magpies winless and bottom of the table after 13 games – making the midweek encounter with The Canaries vital in their bid to avoid the drop.
Here’s our writer Dominic Scurr’s five key takeaways from the 1-1 draw with Norwich:
Clark sees red
When Newcastle’s team news dropped at 6:30pm, Ciaran Clark’s introduction to the side for the suspended skipper Jamaal Lascelles certainly raised a few eyebrows.
The 32-year-old was favoured over Federico Fernandez, who returned to the bench for the first time since October 17.
But the decision to start Clark would backfire after just nine minutes. His failed clearance was blocked by Norwich striker Teemu Pukki, who burst through on goal only to be pulled down by the Newcastle defender.
A deserved straight red card as Newcastle had to play with 10 men for the remaining 81 minutes with their game plan in tatters due to another catalogue of individual errors.
Clark has been a solid servant to Newcastle over the past five years having played a key role in getting the club out of the Championship. But he is one of several players who has served his purpose in black and white and is now overstaying his welcome.
Better late than never
Clark’s dismissal was the catalyst for Fernandez’s long-awaited return as Ryan Fraser was sacrificed in his place to maintain a back four.
Despite being a man down, the switch made Newcastle look stronger as a defensive unit with Fernandez once again proving he is the best defender at the club.
He did that not through any sensational goal-line clearances or crunching tackles, but by taking responsibility and simply defending – something that has been sorely lacking from United’s back line this season.
Even with Lascelles back available for the Burnley game this Saturday (3pm kick-off), Howe risks playing with fire if he omits Fernandez from the starting line-up again.
Matt Ritchie’s suspension also saw left-back Jamal Lewis make his first league start of the season against his former club.
The 23-year-old had to defend following the sending off but he stood up to the task well while also providing an outlet down the left flank.
It was a point-proving display from Lewis, who would also be hard done not to start this weekend.
Newcastle may have gone about things in a roundabout way with suspensions forcing changes, but Howe seems to have stumbled upon his strongest back line with Lewis, Fernandez, Fabian Schar and Javier Manquillo.
Joelinton: Newcastle’s new midfield powerhouse
Joelinton may never be the £40-million number 9 everyone hoped for when he first arrived on Tyneside two years ago, but that hasn’t stopped him winning over the Geordie faithful with his recent displays.
Relinquished from the pressures of the number 9 shirt, the Brazilian has been one of United’s better performers this season. That may not be saying much, but he has continued to improve since Howe’s arrival.
Callum Wilson – who netted his fifth goal of the season from the penalty spot to give Newcastle the lead last night after Billy Gilmour handled inside the area –can lead the line effectively, while Joelinton can play to his strengths in support.
The 25-year-old echoed shades of a prime Yaya Toure with a tenacious and energetic box-to-box display. He was always an outlet, made his physical presence count and arguably should have been awarded a penalty.
Even when he doesn’t get on the scoresheet, he is finding ways to impact matches.
Another missed opportunity
Pukki’s emphatic volley with 11 minutes remaining condemned Newcastle to a 14th Premier League game without a win.
No team in Premier League history has survived following such a poor start.
Leeds United’s last-gasp victory over Crystal Palace also extended the gap between Newcastle and safety to six points.
Time is just about on their side with 24 games remaining, but it’s going to take a monumental effort heading into a gruelling festive schedule.
Failing to beat the teams around them could prove to be Newcastle’s undoing this season as they head into Saturday’s match against 19th placed Burnley knowing that anything less than three points would be disastrous.
The 11th man
Down to 10-men so early and heading into December without a single Premier League win, you wouldn’t blame Newcastle fans for growing frustrated and hostile.
But the situation at St. James’s Park was far from it. Barring a few boos at the final whistle, the supporters stuck by their team throughout.
In terms of the league table, things are as bleak as they have ever been for Newcastle in the Premier League yet there remains and air of positivity around the club.
When the Saudi-led takeover was confirmed back in October, a banner outside St. James’s Park read “we don’t demand a team that wins, we demand a club that tries.”
For any pundits, or former players thinking about suggesting that Newcastle fans demand European football, just look at the scenes on Tyneside on Tuesday night.
The team, in its current standing, may not be good enough to survive in the Premier League but they gave everything on the pitch and the fans have bought into it.
Even with the club bottom of the league, it is amazing how a feel-good factor has remained without the dark cloud of Mike Ashley’s ownership looming over.