Miles Starforth's verdict on Callum Wilson's brilliant Newcastle United debut
Newcastle United took to their field as the last of the shoppers headed home from the nearby Westfield shopping centre, many oblivious to the Premier League game which was being played silently in their midst.
They had their bargains, but the biggest steal of the summer could be Callum Wilson.
Wilson, this week signed from Bournemouth, is already up and running for his new club, having netted, along with fellow debutant Jeff Hendrick, in tonight’s 2-0 win over West Ham United.
And Newcastle owner Mike Ashley – who signed off the £20million deal – was one of the few in the stands at an empty London Stadium to see the striker’s first goal in the behind-closed-doors game.
Wilson might not have got the No.9 shirt – Joelinton has kept that – but this was a performance befitting of that iconic number.
The 28-year-old looks to be the player the team was crying out for last season, when Joelinton was labouring up front on his own. He linked well outside the box, and was a threat in the area.
Wilson’s arrival early in the week had lifted the mood on Tyneside.
If a week’s a long time in politics, it can be an equally long time in football. A week ago optimism was in short supply on Tyneside following a summer which had seen Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund withdraw its takeover bid.
Then came Wilson. Then came Ryan Fraser. And then came Jamal Lewis.
In the past there’s often been a disconnect between what a United manager wants – and what he’s got. But Bruce wanted players with Premier League experience – and he got them.
Wilson, Lewis and Hendrick made their full debuts at the London Stadium, where Karl Darlow’s 951-day wait for a Premier League appearance came to an end because of an injury to No.1 Martin Dubravka.
Miguel Almiron, surprisingly, was on the bench along with Fraser, who hadn’t played a competitive game in six months.
They saw their team made a competitive start. Newcastle had the better of a bruising opening. They were energetic and combative, and Wilson and Lewis, in particular, caught the eye before the break, when they created a series of chances.
Lukasz Fabianski, however, didn’t have to make a save despite the visitors’ dominance, while West Ham, on the back foot for long spells, struck the woodwork twice at the other end of the pitch.
The game was goalless at the break, and Newcastle, unchanged, were soon in front.
A right-wing cross from Javier Manquillo was headed on by Hendrick, and Wilson, challenged by Fabianski, poked the ball over the line to make it a memorable debut for Newcastle’s new No.13.
Wilson – who had made a habit of scoring against West Ham while at Bournemouth – had made Newcastle’s first shot on target count.
And Hendrick made their second shot on target count late in the game after substitute Almiron found him in space to put the game beyond David Moyes’s side.
It’s so far, so good for Bruce’s new-look team, who were clapped off the field by Ashley.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Darlow, Manquillo, Fernandez, Lascelles, Lewis, Hayden, Shelvey, Hendrick, Saint-Maximin (Joelinton, 76), Carroll (S Longstaff, 88), Wilson (Almiron, 85). Subs: Gillespie, Ritchie, Krafth, Fraser.