The big Newcastle United takeaway for Darren Eales as Dan Ashworth pursues final transfers

For once, it’s not about survival.

Newcastle United got their campaign up and running yesterday at the first attempt amid flags and fanfare at St James’s Park.

The contrast to 12 months earlier couldn’t have been greater.

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So much has changed at the club – on and off the pitch – since the team, then managed by Steve Bruce, opened their 2021/22 season with a home 4-2 defeat to West Ham United.

Mike Ashley’s long gone, though the legacy of under-investment he left behind will take years to address. Bruce too has gone, as have a number of players.

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Just as significantly, the negativity of the Ashley era has also gone. There was only positivity yesterday before, during and after a comfortable 2-0 win over newly-promoted Nottingham Forest.

Yes, the team faces far greater challenges on the pitch in the coming weeks and months, but the club, which didn’t win a match last season until December, needed an opening weekend win – and it got one.

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Newcastle United co-owner Amanda Staveley yesterday.

What was striking was the intensity of United’s play, though this shouldn’t have come as a surprise given the intensity of Eddie Howe’s pre-season training programme.

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Newcastle, orchestrated by quick-thinking Bruno Guimaraes in the centre of the pitch, played a high-tempo game. They were stronger and sharper than their opponents in every area of the pitch.

They had a plan, and, time and again, they worked the ball into dangerous areas.

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United have what they didn’t under Bruce, which is an identity.

Callum Wilson celebrates his goal with his Newcastle United team-mates.
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That said, they struggled to turn their dominance into clearcut chances, and the first half ended goalless. Howe felt that it was going to take something special to break the deadlock – and that’s what happened.

Fabian Schar, a player who hardly kicked a ball last season until Howe’s November arrival, opened the scoring with a stunning 58th-minute strike from almost 25 yards after a corner was cleared to him.

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“It was an incredible strike from a player that does the unconventional, really,” said Howe. “He’s capable of doing things like that, special moments.

“I was questioning his decision as he lined up to hit it, but I was delighted to see it hit the net. We sort of needed a goal like that to break the deadlock, as we’d created a number of chances, and hadn’t taken them.”

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Wilson – who missed a large part of last season through injury – added a second with a well-executed finish 12 minutes from time.

“He’s done very well pre-season,” said Howe, who wants to recruit more “quality” this month. “He’s wanted to participate in every training session. He came back at the end of last season. That’s probably a really good few weeks for him, because it built him to a very strong position with his body.

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"His finish today was just pure Callum. It was an excellent finish from a very difficult angle, and that’s what he’ll bring. Hopefully, he can have a full season.”

The worry, of course, is where another injury to Wilson would leave Newcastle, and if this season is to be a success, another striker needs to be added to Howe's squad.

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And that’s the big challenge for sporting director Dan Ashworth and incoming chief executive officer Darren Eales, who watched the game with co-owner Amanda Staveley.