Newcastle United's £25million signing has repaid the faith shown in him by Eddie Howe – now he must kick on
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After scoring eight goals in 14 appearances for The Magpies last season, including equalling Alan Shearer’s club record of scoring in seven consecutive Premier League games while on loan from Arsenal – there was a lot of hype around Willock when he signed permanently for £25million in the summer.
But this season has been a slow burner for the 22-year-old as goals dried up and performance levels dipped. That goes for the whole United side, not just Willock.
But that didn’t stop comparisons being drawn between the young midfielder and loan flop Kenedy, who endured a poor second season at Newcastle after initially impressing on a half season loan.
A dismal start to the season didn’t help things but Newcastle and Willock have slowly but surely turned things around in a bid to avoid relegation from the top flight.
After testing positive for Covid-19 around Christmas, Willock faced a spell out of the side. By the time he finally returned to the side at Leeds United, it had been almost a month and a half since his previous start for the club.
But this would prove to be a turning point in Willock and indeed Newcastle’s season. Just like Willock’s arrival last January turned The Magpies’ season around, Willock’s return to the side this January has coincided with the club moving out of the relegation zone with 10 points out of a possible 12.
Even though Newcastle signed midfielder Bruno Guimaraes for £40million in January, Eddie Howe has been loyal to Willock, and his faith has been repaid by the player.
Willock’s performances during the three game winning streak against Leeds, Everton and Aston Villa resembled the player we saw on loan last season in everything but the goals.
His confidence and energy were back but the wait to get on the scoresheet continued, until Saturday.
He has been getting better game by game since he returned to the side and that run continued at West Ham. The midfielder was playing with a swagger as he brought the ball out brilliantly from midfield with marauding runs forward and plenty of clever touches. That turn on the halfway line to pull away from Declan Rice in the first half was majestic in itself.
Then, on the stroke of half-time, his goal finally came as he pounced on Rice’s wayward header to draw Newcastle level with a tidy finish off the post.
It ended a 21 game goal drought for Willock and was the least his recent performances have deserved. His patience and perseverance has paid off.
In many ways, Willock’s personal season has been a mirror image of Newcastle’s. If he plays well, so do the team and both are producing the goods on the pitch at the moment.
While there is no expectation for Willock to go on another scoring run like he did last season, he has a big weight off his shoulders now he’s got his goal.
And if he continues the level of performances he’s shown in recent weeks – hopefully with a few more goals to his name too – he could be a big player for the club not only this season, but well beyond that.