How Newcastle United's £25m midfielder provided hope of a turnaround during 1-0 win over Leeds

Joe Willock returned to the Newcastle United starting line-up for the first time in over a month for the trip to Leeds United.

Sunday, 23rd January 2022, 4:00 pm

The match presented a good opportunity for the 22-year-old to get back in Eddie Howe’s thoughts as a consistent starter. It has been a largely frustrating season for Willock since signing permanently for Newcastle for £25million as he has failed to register a goal or an assist after an emphatic loan spell last season.

Willock’s goals were crucial in helping The Magpies stay up relatively comfortably last season but this season has been a complete contrast as Newcastle travelled to Elland Road with just one win in their opening 20 league matches and sitting four points from safety. The match itself saw Eddie Howe’s side claim a first away win of the campaign as Jonjo Shelvey’s 75th minute free-kick proved to be the difference. Howe is hoping it will prove to be a turning point in the side’s season as they kept a first away clean sheet of the campaign to secure three points.

But will the match be a turning point for Willock's season?

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Joe Willock of Newcastle United reacts during the Premier League match between Leeds United and Newcastle United at Elland Road on January 22, 2022 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

It was his first start since being hauled off at half-time against Manchester City before Christmas. But it was shaping up to be another frustrating outing for the midfielder.

He was evidently given more licence to get forward and attack, much like he did in his eight goal in 14 game loan spell last season, but very little came off for him in the first half.

As Leeds applied the pressure in the first half, Willock struggled to provide an outlet as he was laboured and ineffective in and out of possession.

But the second half was a different story, the introduction of Sean Longstaff for the injured Joelinton provided some necessary midfield balance for The Magpies and Willock started to come into his own as a result.

Newcastle United's English striker Dwight Gayle (L) and Newcastle United's English midfielder Joe Willock (R) celebrate on the pitch after during the English Premier League football match between Leeds United and Newcastle United at Elland Road in Leeds, northern England on January 22, 2022. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

His carrying of the ball was far more effective as he helped stretch the game and relieve pressure in Newcastle's favour.

“Our athletes in the team, Longstaff, Willock, our attacking midfielders in the game, put in a fantastic shift,” Magpies boss Eddie Howe said. “Fitness is a key fundamental for me and it is something we are working on. It is not easy to do that in season.”

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Willock brought the ball forward positively on six separate occasions at Elland Road, made two key passes and had the most touches of any Newcastle player in the Leeds penalty area with seven.His attacking positivity and athleticism were almost rewarded with a goal in stoppage time as his clever link up play with Allan Saint-Maximin saw a great chance present itself to Willock but his left footed effort was well saved by Illan Meslier.

Willock’s performance was an important cog in an all around solid and resolute team display from Newcastle. He was utilised in his correct attacking-midfield position and grew into the game as it wore on.

He may still be waiting to break his duck in terms of goals, but there are still signs that he’s capable of turning his and Newcastle’s season around.

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