This week could get MUCH better for Newcastle United fans – on and off the pitch
This wasn’t much of a spectacle for those watching at home on Tyneside – or in Riyadh.
With Premier League games now being viewed legally in Saudi Arabia via previously-blocked beIN Sports, the country’s sporting public will have taken an interest in Newcastle United’s 1-1 draw against Aston Villa this evening.
The kingdom, of course, is the source of much of the funding for the proposed takeover of the club, which will gain millions of new fans, as well as new funds, if the deal is passed.
A decision from the Premier League is understood to be imminent. Sources in Saudi Arabia, where English football is hugely popular, are increasingly confident that the deal will be approved after months of deliberations, though there’s caution on Tyneside.
Those watching this behind-closed-doors game didn’t have much to cheer about until Dwight Gayle and Andy Carroll came off the bench. Gayle’s first goal for the club in two years was cancelled out by Ahmed Elmohamady.
The start of the restart couldn’t have gone any better for Newcastle – and head coach Bruce.
Sunday’s 3-0 win over Sheffield United edged the club towards the 40-point safety mark, and the visit of relegation-threatened Villa represented a big opportunity for a team which was written off by some last summer following the appointment of Bruce.
Last season Rafa Benitez, Bruce’s predecessor, had claimed that it would be a “miracle” if the club stayed up. They finished 13th.
Bruce dismissed comparisons with Benitez in his pre-match press conference – he labelled it “this Rafa thing” – but it’s clear that bettering last season’s finish is something that would mean a lot to Bruce, who has labelled recent speculation over his future “disrespectful”.
However, that speculation won’t go away, and it’ll only intensify if the proposed takeover of the club is given the go-ahead by the Premier League in the coming days.
Bruce named an unchanged team, and Bruce’s side took their time to settle into the game.
Jack Grealish was outstanding in Villa’s 2-0 win over United at Villa Park in November, and the visitors probed away in the opening minutes. Trezeguet and Mbwana Samatta missed early chances.
Newcastle lacked intensity, and Allan Saint-Maximin – who switched flanks with Matt Ritchie – didn’t get on the ball nearly enough in the first half.
United rallied before the break, and Ritchie had United’s first shot in the 44th minute, when tested Orjan Nyland’s hands with a fierce effort.
There were more chances for Bruce’s side after the break, and Jonjo Shelvey brought some composure to the midfield.
And the introduction of Gayle and Carroll led to the breakthrough. Carroll took the ball from a throw-in, and played in Gayle, who beat Nyland with a right-footed shot across his goal.
It was a clinical finish from the striker, who hadn’t scored for United since May 2018. Villa, however, levelled through a close-range Elmohamady strike.
Newcastle, at least, can now focus on Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final, and fans know that this week could get a lot better – on and off the pitch.