This was Steve Bruce's biggest win yet at Newcastle United
Newcastle United fans didn’t expect this. Andy Carroll in the starting XI before Christmas – and the club up to 11th in the Premier League.
The pre-game talking point at Bramall Lane was Carroll’s first start for the club in almost nine years.
Fans, however, left the stadium talking about VAR following the club’s 2-0 win over Sheffield United following a bizarre second goal for Newcastle. The goal, scored by Jonjo Shelvey, will be long talked about.
It had been like going back in time to the club’s last league visit to Bramall Lane a decade ago. Carroll walked into players’ entrance followed by Steve Harper, now a coach at the club.
Carroll didn’t have a shot on target, but it didn’t matter. He did a important job defensively as the team, leading through Allan Saint-Maximin’s first goal for the club, protected their lead.
The wisdom of re-signing Carroll has been questioned given his injury record. For Bruce, the deal was a no-brainer. The 30-year-old arrived back at St James’s Park older, wiser – and on an incentivised contract.
Bruce felt it was the “right time” to start with Carroll, and his gameplan revolved around getting him the right service.
After Newcastle came through an uncomfortable start, Javier Manquillo did just that – only Saint-Maximin, not Carroll, rose up and got his head on his right-wing delivery to put the visitors ahead. It was Saint-Maximin’s first strike in 665 minutes of league football.
Dubravka also played his part. The goalkeeper made a number of first-half saves. Newcastle just couldn’t keep hold of the ball, but somehow they held on to their lead.
They came under more pressure in the second half, and, worryingly, Dubravka needed treatment after a collision.
The goalkeeper continued, and Shelvey capped a memorable win with a bizarre goal. Carroll flicked a ball forward on to the midfielder, and the linesman raised his flag. Shelvey, however, played on and scored past a static Dean Henderson.
Referee Stuart Attwell checked with VAR – and it stood. Shelvey and his team-mates belatedly celebrated in front of a jubilant away end.
Christmas had come very early for the travelling fans, who even cheered Bruce at the final whistle.