Newcastle United in touching distance of Premier League safety thanks to Allan Saint-Maximin
Premier League safety had seemed a long, long way off a few weeks when the club briefly dropped into the relegation zone.
But Newcastle United are now in touching distance of where they need to be following a remarkable 3-2 win over West Ham United at St James’s Park.
That’s not where this club should be, of course, but needs must. This season is about survival.
And Newcastle, on 35 points, are now nine points clear of third-bottom Fulham with six games left to play, though Steve Bruce’s side did it the hard way against 10-man West Ham after dominating the first 45 minutes.
They led 2-0 at the break thanks to an own goal and a strike from Joelinton, but they needed another goal from substitute Joe Willock to secure the points after a a dreadful second-half period allowed a spirited visiting team back into the game on a glorious spring afternoon on Tyneside.
Willock has now scored three goals from nine Premier League appearances since joining from Arsenal in January.
Bruce had recalled Allan Saint-Maximin to the starting XI – and left Callum Wilson on the bench. Saint-Maximin had changed the game at Turf Moor a week earlier, and the 24-year-old, again, was the catalyst at St James’s Park.
United again had a five-man defence anchored by Ciaran Clark, and Saint-Maximin was fielded as a second striker playing off Joelinton. Worryingly, the winger, so important to the club’s survival hopes, went down a couple of times early in the game, but fortunately he was able to play on without treatment.
Saint-Maximin, just like he had at Turf Moor a week earlier, caused problems whenever he took the ball.
The breakthrough came in the 36th minute. Craig Dawson, already on a yellow card, lunged at Joelinton as he broke through the middle. Referee Kevin Friend waved play on as Saint-Maximin drove forward. His shot went in off Issa Diop, who had got in the way of Lukasz Fabianski.
Dawson was shown a second yellow and sent off.
Newcastle were all over their visitors, and five minutes later Fabianski, under no pressure, dropped a corner, and Joelinton tapped the ball home.
Bruce’s side deservedly led 2-0 at the break, and a reorganised West Ham came back at them after the restart.
Wilson eventually replaced a flagging Saint-Maximin, but Newcastle just couldn’t get going. They were awful, and Friend pointed to the spot after a VAR and pitchside monitor check after Ciaran Clark handled in the box. Jesse Lingard stroked the ball home.
Thankfully, that wasn’t that. After Ben Johnson stopped a Jacob Murphy shot on the line, Newcastle came back again. Joe Willock – who had been sent on a couple of minutes earlier – powerfully me an 82nd-minute Matt Ritchie cross with a header to restore the team’s one-goal advantage.
Bruce’s side – who take on Liverpool at Anfield next weekend – survived an uncomfortable eight minutes of added time to all but secure their top-flight survival with six games left to play.