Florian Lejeune reflects on the 'craziest' 102 seconds of his Newcastle United career after dramatic Everton comeback
Florian Lejeune summed it all up in one word.
“Crazy,” said Lejeune before he left Goodison Park, having scored two injury-time goals to claim a point for Newcastle United from a 2-2 draw.
Lejeune wasn’t wrong. It was crazy. Steve Bruce’s side were awful for much of the 90 minutes against Everton, and deservedly trailed by two goals when assistant referee Mike Dean held up the board indicating that there would be four minutes of added time.
Some Newcastle fans had already seen enough. Others just wanted the game to end.
In the press box at the other side of the stadium, reports had been written and were ready to be filed on the final whistle.
Those reports, however, had to be hastily rewritten following 102 seconds of injury-time craziness from a team which had scored a 94th-minute winner against Chelsea at St James’s Park four days earlier.
“It was crazy what happened,” said Lejeune. “I was just happy to be able to help the team. I have never been involved in a finish like that – (it was the) first time.
“It was a difficult game They were a very good team with good players. It’s a difficult place to win, but it’s also difficult to get a point there.
“Everyone was happy. We know we could have done more with the ball, but you can see the character against Chelsea and now against Everton. That’s great.
It all started when a 94th-minute corner from Matt Ritchie was punched away by Jordan Pickford, again the subject of taunts from visiting fans over his previous affiliation with Sunderland. Fabian Schar struck Fabian Delph with a shot, and Lejeune scored with an overhead kick at the Gwladys Street Stand.
That looked to be nothing more than a consolation strike at the time, but there was a purpose about United’s players when they ran back with the ball for the restart.
And they purposefully delivered a free-kick into the box seconds later. There was a scramble. Pickford stopped Lejeune’s effort – but he was stood well behind his line. The goal was given.
“I’ve never scored two before – it was a nice way to do it,” said Lejeune, who has fought back after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligaments in both his knees in the space of a year.
“My first goal made it 2-1. The second was crazy, because there were a lot of players in the box. Nobody knew if it had gone in because there were so many people in the box. The referee said it was a goal.
“When we scored the first, we were losing, so no celebration. We just wanted to try to get a corner or a free kick and we got one, and I’m happy it ended in that way.”
Lejeune and his team-mates ran to the club’s 1,700 travelling fans, tucked into the lower tier of the Bullens Road Stand, at the opposite end of the ground after the goal. The rest of Goodison Park was silent.
“It is not just the 90 minutes,” said Lejeune. “It’s 93, 94 and 95. We have to try, and we keep trying. That says everything about this squad.”
The comeback meant everything to Lejeune, who had surgery on both knees in Rome last season.
“I hope my bad injuries are over,” said the 28-year-old, signed from Eibar in the summer of 2017. “I had two big injuries. I have worked very hard during those times, every day.
“It was difficult for me and for my wife, because my baby was born in Rome. It was a long way to bring my wife to another country the second time. It’s a long way. I think I work hard, amazing staff, and everyone has been good with me. I’m happy to be playing again.”
Lejeune, exhausted physically and mentally after a festive comeback for the first team, was culpable for two of Leicester City’s goals in their 3-0 New Year’s Day win at St James’s Park.
“I know, for me, it was difficult in the last few weeks, because after eight months I played four games in 10 days,” said Lejeune. “You can see why it’s difficult after being out for so long, not just for the body, but for the head too.
“Tired. The legs, head, they’re the same. I wasn’t happy after the Leicester game, because I was tired.
“I have felt good about my body, though. The leg and knee has been good. I’m happy now.”
The game followed the announcement that former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nabil Bentaleb had joined on loan from Schalke 04.
“I know this player, a very good player technically, and a lot of ability,” said Lejeune. “I think he can give something different. We’re happy to have this player.
“We’re happy to have new players. We’ll make sure we welcome any new players to Newcastle. Nabil’s a different type of player to what we have. He has good left foot, he has played in the Champions League. He’s a big player, and he can do well for us.”