Mike Ashley makes personal check on Arsenal's Joe Willock ahead of Newcastle United transfer summit
Mike Ashley saw with his own eyes what all the fuss was about at Craven Cottage.
Newcastle United’s owner watched Steve Bruce’s side end their Premier League campaign with a 2-0 win over Fulham which saw the club climb up to 12th place.
Joe Willock, of course, was one of the scorers.
Willock, signed on loan from Arsenal, scored a sensational goal to make it seven strikes from seven games and eight in total.
The 21-year-old has arguably done too well – and United may not be able to afford him should Mikel Arteta make him available for a permanent transfer, though another loan may be an option.
Willock was the difference between the two sides at Craven Cottage, which is a building site. There’ll need to be some rebuilding at Newcastle, and Bruce will get the chance to oversee it, despite the antipathy felt by some supporters towards the 60-year-old, who was booed in midweek.
The stadium had been the scene of the club’s final game of the season in 2019. That afternoon, the team, then managed by Rafa Benitez, convincingly beat relegated Fulham 4-0.
United’s victory promised much, and visiting supporters implored Benitez to stay, but soon he was gone along with Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez, who both found the net at Craven Cottage.
So much has changed – on and off the pitch – since then.
There were around 2,000 Fulham fans inside the sodden stadium, which is being rebuilt on one side. The Putney End, normally a sea of Newcastle supporters, was filled with hundreds of home fans with clappers.
Jonjo Shelvey, also a scorer that day, led out the team the absence through injury of club captain Jamaal Lascelles. Joelinton, forced off against Sheffield United in midweek with a knock, was replaced in the starting XI by Sean Longstaff.
Miguel Almiron was pushed up to support Allan Saint-Maximin in attack, but Newcastle found themselves on the back foot early in the game.
United, under pressure, needed something – and Willock gave them it. Jacob Murphy played the ball to Willock in his own half, and the midfielder just ran – and ran. Willock powered into the box unchecked, and beat Marek Rodak with a low shot.
It was a stunning goal, and it capped a stunning loan spell for the 21-year-old, who is a primary summer transfer target for Newcastle.
Bruce will discuss targets and budgets with managing director Lee Charnley in the coming days. Ashley, of course, will dictate just how much is made available for squad strengthening following a year of behind-closed-doors football.
United took their lead into the break, and Ivan Cavakeiro missed a chance to level 10 minutes into the second half.
Bruce replaced Saint-Maximin with Dwigth Gayle, the subject of a £15million Fulham bid four years ago, in the 65th minute. Gayle headed over from a Matt Ritchie free-kick soon after coming on.
Fabian Schar, back from a three-game suspension, also made it on to the pitch along with Jeff Hendrick. Andy Carroll was denied an appearance ahead of the expiry of his contract.
Schar scored United’s second from the penalty spot after Matt Ritchie was brought down in the box.
The result saw Newcastle end the season with 45 points – just as they did two years ago.