Inside an empty St James's Park: The story of a remarkable Newcastle United restart
Three goals and a home win. Is this the new normal at Newcastle United?
Just imagine how a full St James’s Park would have reacted to this 3-0 win over 10-man Sheffield United – and Joelinton’s first Premier League goal since last August.
So 113 days after a last outing at St James’s Park, a forgettable draw against Burnley in late February, Bruce’s side returned to the field at a disinfected, sanitised and near-empty stadium.
Fortunately, the outcome was more memorable. Newcastle played with intelligence and intensity, and the only shame was that supporters had to watch it at home.
And that’s the thing. The players were the same and the stadium was the same, but everything was different.
So much has changed off the field since Allan Saint-Maximin was mobbed by his team-mates in front of 2,900 fans after scoring the club’s winner at Southampton’s St Mary Stadium on March 7.
There was no social distancing then as fans celebrated the goal, and the world has changed, dramatically, over the past few months.
We just don’t know when fans will will experience the joy and pain of watching their team at St James’s Park and around the country.
What we do know is that it will be a very special day when they do return to worship their team at the city’s footballing cathedral on the hill.
That day will come. For now, they must watch at home. And there were millions watching the return of Premier League football to St James’s Park.
Some of the matchday rituals were the same – the teams were read out and music was played on the PA system – but the sight and sounds of a Premier League game being played in an empty stadium were very unusual, even surreal.
It had been suggested beforehand that an empty stadium might help Joelinton, who had laboured up front before the lockdown. The striker, however, scuffed a first-half shot after being played in by Miguel Almiron.
Applause from the pitch and the bench, which had an overflow in the seats given the need for social distancing, punctuated the game as well as shouts from Matt Ritchie.
The sidelines were disinfected during the break by staff in hazmat suits, and thankfully Allan Saint-Maximin washed away the memory of that Joelinton miss in the second half after the visitors had John Egan sent off for a second bookable offence.
Enda Stevens swung and missed a low, left-wing cross from Ritchie, and Saint-Maximin beat Dean Henderson with a right-footed shot at the far post.
Then came a fierce strike from Ritchie, his first of the season, and the afternoon was capped by Joeltinon, who started and finished a move in the 78th minute.
In the sparsely-populated directors’ box, Lee Charnley, the club’s managing director, was sat alone.
Charnley may not be there for too much longer if the proposed £300million takeover is given the go-ahead.
Newcastle fans, at least, have something to cheer about while they wait for a Premier League decision which has seemingly been coming longer than that Joelinton goal.