Key Newcastle United figure makes surprise appearance for Eddie Howe's first game
It took Eddie Howe a little over a week to transform Newcastle United into an attacking force.
However, it’ll take Howe and his staff longer to deal with the defensive problems that were so evident during Steve Bruce’s final few months as head coach.
The Howe era started with a 3-3 draw against Brentford at St James’s Park – Jamaal Lascelles, Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin were on target for United – and the club ended the day propping up the Premier League.
There were positives. Newcastle, at least, got on the front foot, but mistakes at the back have again proved costly.
Only wins will get the club out of this mess – and the team hasn’t won in 12 games.
Public Investment Fund governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the club’s non-executive chairman was at St James’s Park for the second time since last month’s £300million takeover.
Unfortunately, Howe wasn’t, having tested positive for Covid-19 on the eve of the game.
Howe, isolating in a Newcastle hotel room, had handed Fabian Schar only his third start of the season. Joe Willock and Joelinton also came into his first starting XI.
Al-Rumayyan, sat with co-owner Amanda Staveley, will have felt the buzz around the the stadium before kick-off time.
There was a Wor Flags display with the messages “Eddie Howe’s black and white army” and “This is our house, this is Newcastle” in the Gallowgate end of the sold-out stadium.
Things got better once the game kicked off – but only momentarily.
Captain Lascelles headed home a Matt Ritchie corner to open the scoring, but the visitors equalised from the restart. Former United striker Ivan Toney, left unmarked on the right side of the box, drilled a low shot through the hands of goalkeeper Karl Darlow. Toney celebrated by kissing the badge on his shirt.
Newcastle had Schar to thank for saving a goal later in the half. The defender, stood on the right-hand post, blocked a shot from Toney, who was sold in 2018 by then-manager Rafa Benitez. Toney was full of running all afternoon.
United had a spell of pressure before Brentford’s second goal, scored by the Rico Henry. Henry, also unmarked, met a right-wing Sergi Canos cross at the far post to put the visitors into the lead.
Newcastle attacked again. Saint-Maximin took the ball on the left, and the ball fizzed to Joelinton when his attempted shot was blocked, Joelinton took a touch before squeezing the ball inside the left-hand post.
The game was level at the break, but Brentford restored their lead in the second half. A strike from substitute Frank Onyeka struck Lascelles on its way past Darlow.
Ryan Fraser and Sean Longstaff were sent on for the last 10 minutes – they replaced Willock and Schar – and United were soon level. Darlow found Saint-Maximin on the left, and he switched play to Fraser. Saint-Maximin continued his run and met Fraser’s delivery at the far post to equalise.
Joelinton had a chance to score after a brilliant run forward from Saint-Maximin, but, agonisingly and frustratingly, he somehow lost his footing in front of goal.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Darlow, Murphy, Schar (S Longstaff, 71), Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie, Shelvey, Willock (Fraser, 71), Joelinton, Saint-Maximin, Wilson. Subs not used: Dubravka, Lewis, Hayden, Krafth, Manquillo, Almiron, Gayle.