Eddie Howe's big 'problem' following Newcastle United's 1-1 draw at West Ham

Newcastle United stretched their unbeaten run in the Premier League to six matches following a 1-1 draw at West Ham United on Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, 20th February 2022, 10:00 am

Craig Dawson’s 32nd minute header was cancelled out by Joe Willock’s first goal of the season on the stroke of half-time at The London Stadium.

Here are Dominic Scurr’s five takeaways from the game…

Key absentees

Newcastle United's English midfielder Joe Willock celebrates after scoring a goal during the English Premier League football match between West Ham and Newcastle United at the London Stadium, in London on February 19, 2022. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Newcastle were dealt yet another injury blow prior to kick-off with Allan Saint-Maximin ruled out with a calf problem.

With Callum Wilson and Kieran Trippier also out, The Magpies faced the difficult task of carrying on the momentum without their top three goalscorers.

Javier Manquillo was also out with an ankle ligament problem which saw Emil Krafth and Matt Targett come in.

Federico Fernandez returned to the matchday squad after a spell out with a thigh injury as Jacob Murphy replaced Saint-Maximin in the starting 11.

Emil Krafth of Newcastle United prepares to take a throw in during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Newcastle United at London Stadium on February 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Despite having a depleted squad and altered travel plans due to Storm Eunice, Newcastle’s consistency remained in regards to their performance as they dominated West Ham for large periods without creating too many opportunities.

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A long-awaited goal

After a strong opening half-hour, Newcastle went behind after Emil Krafth clumsily fouled Michail Antonio 30-yards from goal. Aaron Cresswell’s delivery from the resulting free-kick was nodded in by an unmarked Craig Dawson for his second goal in as many games.

Newcastle United's English head coach Eddie Howe (L) speaks with Newcastle United's English head coach Eddie Howe during the English Premier League football match between West Ham and Newcastle United at the London Stadium, in London on February 19, 2022. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

It was a sucker punch for The Magpies, who had enjoyed the majority of possession until that point but not done enough with it in front of goal.

But on the stroke of half-time, West Ham failed to deal with Krafth’s cross into the box as Willock latched on to Declan Rice’s mistimed header to poke home his first goal of the season. The opportunistic strike was scooped out of the goal by West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski but was quickly deemed to have crossed the line as the 22-year-old ended a 21 game goalless drought for Newcastle.

Since returning to the side against Leeds United last month, Willock has looked much more like the player we saw on loan last season and now he finally has the goal his recent performances have deserved as the sides went in at 1-1.

"When I saw it go in I was so delighted,” Willock told BT Sport. “It’s been a long time coming. I’m happy to score and help the team.

Newcastle United fans hold inflatable cats in the crowd during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Newcastle United at London Stadium on February 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

"That’s how football is – it never goes how you want it to go. I’ve tried to stick to my task and take on board what the manager wanted me to do."

A new look defence

Newcastle have looked a team transformed in the past four games and that is no small part down to their defensive line. While Krafth still clearly lacks the defensive nous required for Premier League football, the other three barely put a foot wrong.

Dan Burn and Fabian Schar may have only played two games together but they were a composed and solid presence throughout the game as once Newcastle equalised, they never looked in any real danger of losing the game as it just petered out in the second half.

A couple of months ago, Fernandez being named on the bench would have sparked an outrage but he has not been missed and it’s difficult to see how Jamaal Lascelles comes back into the side at the moment given the pair’s form.

At left-back, Matt Target was a refreshing presence once again. The Aston Villa loanee was effective at both ends and brought a simple yet effective approach to the position that Newcastle have lacked for a while.

Emil Krafth of Newcastle United battles for possession with Said Benrahma of West Ham United during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Newcastle United at London Stadium on February 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)

The car crash defending and persistent self-inflicted defeats of earlier this season seem like a distant memory at the moment – long may it continue.

Howe’s Bruno ‘problem’

Bruno Guimaraes’ wait for his full Newcastle debut continued as he was resigned to another brief cameo appearance. You could certainly sense the frustration growing from the £40million Brazilian as he impatiently warmed up on the touchline during the match.

But with Willock, Jonjo Shelvey and Joelinton in the form they are, Howe’s decision to leave out Guimaraes has been vindicated by the side’s performances and results.

With the match finely poised and lacking in quality in the second half, perhaps the 24-year-old could have been introduced earlier, but Howe won’t want to tamper with something that is working so well at the moment.

The Newcastle boss has maintained that Guimaraes will play ‘a lot of games’ for the club though his wait for a start looks like continuing based on Saturday’s midfield showing.

A good point?

In the context of Newcastle’s current form, it’s hard to turn your nose up at a point away at a side chasing a Champions League spot.

Although The Magpies outplayed The Hammers for large periods, they just didn’t do enough in front of goal to warrant three points from the match as they failed to register a meaningful shot on target other than Willock’s goal.

At the other end, Martin Dubravka had one moment of action to tip Jarrod Bowen’s tight angled effort onto the crossbar but otherwise had a quiet afternoon.

For Howe, it's another point in the right direction. Newcastle have now taken as many points in their last five games (11) as they had in their previous 19 before that this season.

They sit sixth in the form table and have picked up more points than league leaders Manchester City since New Year's Day.

Elsewhere, Burnley and Watford both won away from home to close the gap on Newcastle, who still remain four points clear of the relegation zone.

Defeats for Brentford and Everton means The Magpies could leapfrog both in the table should they claim three points at The Brentford Community Stadium next Saturday.

All in all, another productive weekend for Howe’s side in their battle to avoid relegation.

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