Our final pre-season friendly of the summer at St James’ Park ahead of the new Premier League season, and it was another good run out – with us dominating in a convincing 2-1 win over St-Etienne.
St-Étienne – who finished 4th in Ligue 1 last season – arrived with a strong side, filled with several familiar faces, including ex-Mag Mathieu Debuchy, former Mackem midfielder Yann M’villa and Arsenal’s new £27m centre-back William Saliba (who’s been loaned back to the French side).
NUFC starting 11 (3-5-2): Dubravka – Schar, Lascelles, Fernandez – Manquillo, Hayden, Shelvey, Longstaff, Aarons – Almiron, Joelinton.
It was an accomplished and controlled performance which featured some exciting moments from our three new signings and a special moment for 19-year-old local lad Matty Longstaff – who smashed a 25-yard shot in off the crossbar just seconds after making his first senior appearance at St James’ Park.
Here’s the opening goal by Joelinton, who latched onto another sublime through ball from Fabian Schar and did well to beat both the goalkeeper and two St-Etienne’s to a couple of 50/50’s:
Joelinton impressed, with his all round play and movement being arguably more eye-catching than the fact he scored once again. He’s happy to come short and link the play, he’s strong enough to back into his man and play the target man role, but he’s also got impressive movement and mobility, with him constantly being on the shoulder of the last man in a bid to get in behind.
It’s early days, but he looks to have all the makings of a VERY good striker, having a rare mix of pace, power and impressive movement.
Almiron was everywhere and pulled the strings, although it is another game where he’ll be wondering how he hasn’t scored. It’s a slight concern that his final ball is letting him down, but I am confident he’ll be flying as soon as he bags that first goal, with his general play, energy and enthusiasm for the game so, so impressive.
Shelvey dictated the play in a deep-lying playmaker role, with Hayden and Longstaff pressing well and getting into some advanced positions either side of him. At the back, Manquillo did a good job once again and both Schar and Fernandez showed moments of class, while Lascelles was rock solid and dealt with just about everything thrown at him in the middle.
Then, with just over half an hour remaining, £16.5m man Allan Saint-Maximin came on – and he ran the show from then on in. As the video below shows, his first 49 seconds at St James’ Park were exciting to say the least, seeing him press brilliantly and beat his man with ease after receiving a warm Geordie welcome from the 16,000 crowd:
The Frenchman was absolutely electric, not only going on some sparkling runs, skipping past St Etienne players at ease, but also picking out some tidy passes and testing the goalkeeper with a few shots.
Then, for all of Saint-Maximin’s magic, Almiron’s energy and Joelinton’s movement, the moment of the game arrived – via a stunning strike from Matty Longstaff (see clip below).
The 19-year-old had only been on the field for a matter of seconds, but, after some showboating in the corner from Willems and Saint-Maximin, he received a pass from brother Sean and unleashed a brilliant 25-yard strike that smashed in off the crossbar:
A special moment for the Geordie midfielder, who looks likely to stay and fight for a place in the first-team squad after several eye-catching displays over pre-season.
Aarons did OK, but, based on Jetro Willems’ impressive late cameo, I can’t see him starting at left wing-back for much longer while Matt Ritchie is out.
Willems played some intelligent passes down the line, looked a decent dribbler and linked up with Saint-Maximin well.
It’s hard to judge over pre-season, but we looked nicely balanced and a team that could cause all sorts of problems in behind and on the counter, with Almiron, Joelinton and Saint-Maximin all constantly looking to burst in behind or run at their man.
With today’s result in mind, we’ve ended pre-season with the following results
- L – 0-4 vs Wolves
- W – 1-0 vs West Ham (Muto)
- L – 1-2 vs Preston (Shelvey)
- W – 3-1 vs Hibernian (Joelinton, S.Longstaff, Lascelles)
- W – 2-1 vs St-Etienne (Joelinton, M.Longstaff).
Next up – Arsenal at St James’ Park a week tomorrow for the start of our 2019/20 Premier League season!