Mike Ashley's made some terrible decisions as Newcastle United owner – but this is NOT one of them
Newcastle United’s defence needs tightening – just as the lockdown is loosening.
Bars, cafes, restaurants and hairdressers reopened yesterday following a three-month closure due to coronavirus on what was dubbed “Super Saturday”,
However, this afternoon the club’s back four was too open for Steve Bruce’s liking in an entertaining 2-2 draw against West Ham United.
Yet Newcastle had enough about them to twice equalise against David Moyes’s side, and the club is 12th in the Premier League ahead of Wednesday night’s game away to Manchester City, when the defence will need to go into lockdown.
Newcastle United star Bruno Guimaraes issues cryptic six-word message amid Real Madrid link
Supercomputer predicts surprising Premier League finishes for Newcastle United, Manchester United, Leeds United and co
Newcastle United's Dan Burn says what many people are thinking about Manchester City right now
Chelsea face Christian Pulisic ‘dilemma’ amid Newcastle and Leeds interest as Wolves given ‘boost’ in Goncalo Ramos pursuit
Eddie Howe's sobering Newcastle United transfer response to Joao Pedro bid rejected by Watford
The club is also on 43 points, just two short of last season’s total.
Mike Ashley has made some terrible decisions in his 13 years as United owner, but appointing Bruce, it seems, isn’t one of them.
Newcastle, unbeaten in six games, have looked a different team since the restart thanks to the brilliance of Allan Saint-Maximin, who had set up three of United’s four goals in a 4-1 win over Bournemouth four days earlier.
However, it was Miguel Almiron and Jonjo Shelvey who came to the fore against West Ham at an empty St James’s Park.
Bruce made two changes – Almiron and Isaac Hayden replaced Nabil Bentaleb and the injured Sean Longstaff – and set up the team again in an attacking 4-3-3 formation.
Almiron – who came off the bench and scored against Bournemouth – was fielded as a No.10 behind Dwight Gayle, who went into the game having scored on his previous two Premier League outings.
Newcastle had got a grip of the game early at the Vitality Stadium, but they got off to a poor start against West Ham, who took a fourth-minute lead through Michael Antonio.
Jarrod Bowen, a target for Newcastle last summer, broke down the right and Jamaal Lascelles failed to clear his low cross. Antonio, behind him, took a touch and finished past Martin Dubravka.
The lead didn’t last. United – who had a penalty claim waved away after Angelo Ogbonna appeared to handle a shot from Shelvey – got back in it in the 17th minute.
Saint-Maximin played the ball to Emil Krafth on the right, and he delivered a low cross in behind for Almiron, who tapped it home to take his goal tally to eight.
Dubravka did well to stop a shot from Bowen, who had been signed as an unknown by Hull City during Bruce’s time at the club.
Newcastle lost Hayden to injury in the 43rd minute, and had a scare before the break when Saint-Maximin, so important to the team, needed treatment after he was caught by Ryan Fredericks.
Saint-Maximin played on, and the second half came to life in the 65th minute when Declan Rice crashed a header against the crossbar. The unmarked Tomas Soucek swept the ball home.
Newcastle’s response, to their credit, was instant. Shelvey played a one-two with Gayle during a run into the box and finished past Fabianski.
West Ham pressed for a winner, but Bruce’s side held out to claim a point.
This Newcastle side isn’t finished just yet, and the club could yet break into the top 10.