Ruthless counters, defensive wobbles & unhappy, two-goal Callum Wilson – Liam Kennedy's SEVEN Newcastle United takeaways
In February Newcastle United looked absolutely nailed on to be relegated from the Premier League. But somehow, with three games to go, they’re all but safe.
How does a team that looks barely capable of stringing five consecutive passes together suddenly turn into a side capable of winning at Leicester, almost doing so at Anfield and going toe-to-toe with Champions League chasers Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United? Truth be told, United have had more of a say in the top four fight than they have done in the one to stay out of the bottom three.
Some key contributors to the Leicester City win last night have been crucial in United pulling themselves up by their own bootstrings – and here Liam Kennedy takes a look at his SEVEN takeaways from the King Power Stadium victory.
Newcastle United were back to their counter attack best – in fact, I’m not sure they’ve ever been this good under Bruce. Long may it continue, mind.
Swift balls in behind by the likes of Matt Ritchie and Miguel Almiron were meat and drink for Callum Wilson, who looks fit and back to his very best.
One of the most interesting points about the win was that United, this time, did it largely without Allan Saint-Maximin’s impact. Early doors he looked in lethal form, but was closed out quite strategically by the Foxes. Thing is, all that does is open up gaps for others.
Defensive wobbles continue
For about 70-80 minutes last night United’s backline was top class. They blocked everything, won every header, were compact and solid when needed to be. With the ball the full-backs attacked and caused problems. Things worked perfectly.
But when the heat was turned up, the five lost the plot and looked as shaky and as vulnerable as they did when West Ham applied the pressure, or Arsenal did last Sunday.
Overall it was much better, but still room for improvement.
Emil Krafth’s inclusion looked to be downgrade on Ciaran Clark but United looked a whole lot more solid than they have done for weeks, even with the shaky Swede at the heart of things.
An understated but vital relegation run in contribution
Martin Dubravka is a wall. An acrobatic, commanding, Slovakian wall.
Nowt, unless top class, gets past him – and absolutely nowt fazes him.
Somehow, he still has his critics. But I am certain that when the day comes, and he departs United, he will be remembered as one of the best to ever grace the Newcastle No1 jersey.
An absolute colossus in this relegation run in, his impact since replacing the very unlucky Karl Darlow cannot be understated.
Bruce’s ‘awful’ but inspired choice
Dropping Sean Longstaff was not an easy call for Bruce, as he admitted pre-game. To be honest, it wouldn’t have been easy for me either – thing is, dropping Jonjo Shelvey would have been much less painful.
Even though Bruce stuck with his skipper and dropped the ever-improving Geordie midfielder, it actually proved an inspired choice as Joe Willock made it five goals in 11 games for United – four in his last four in the Premier League.
He’s Arsenal’s top scoring midfielder and he doesn’t even play for them.
What a signing, what a character and what a player.
Everything he touches is goalden at the moment, but that’s a fraction of what his game is about. United have not had a late runner into the box like him since Gini Wijnaldum and someone who covers the ground so well without the ball since Mo Diame.
His success has come at a cost, though. It’s looking harder and harder by the game to sign him up for next season.
Wilson’s final whistle frown – a true measure of the man
Callum Wilson was far from happy at the final whistle. His team had unexpectedly blown Champions League-chasing Leicester City out of the water and he’d bagged a top flight brace, his first goals since the start of March. You’d think he’d be happy, no? Definitely not.
In the striker’s mind I wonder if he had one eye on a hat-trick when his second hit the back of the net – and unfortunately another chance never fell his way.
That kind of hunger, desire and want to improve is admirable. A few could learn from their top-scoring frontman.
The Ritchie dilemma
Will he stay or will he go? That’s one of the biggest questions on the agenda for Newcastle United in the summer – but for now Ritchie is proving himself to be as valuable as he’s ever been in black and white (or yellow).
He was very close to the United exit door in January, will it be the same this summer? Playing games will likely appease him, but only time will tell whether the pull back south is too strong.
Looking up, rather than down
In the post-match Sky Sports coverage all the talk was of how United were not quite mathematically safe. Come on man, gis a break.
Twelve points clear with four rounds of Premier League games left for those below, it’s over – even they probably know they won’t catch United. Fulham will only have eyes for Monday’s opponents Burnley.
In a bizarre season that’s seen United dance with death since January, they now find themselves in 13th, just three points off 12th. Could this season, against all odds, result in a three-season finishing spot high?