A big win for Newcastle United after the turbulent two weeks we’ve just endured, with an early strike from Almiron and late Gayle goal getting us over the line in a scrappy affair at St James’ Park.
It wasn’t easy on the eye and we got away with it at times against a battling Baggies side, but that’s now back to back wins, sending us 11 clear of the drop zone and up to 11th.
The team was always going to be interesting after the recent Covid outbreak, but it was stronger than some expected.
Steve Bruce made THREE changes from the side that won 2-0 at Crystal Palace two weeks ago, with Hayden coming in for the absent Fernandez at centre-back, Krafth replacing Manquillo and Ritchie earning a recall in place of Hendrick.
U-23 stopper Dan Langley was named on the bench, but there was no sight of Saint-Maximin, Lascelles, Schar, Fernandez, Gillespie or Fraser – giving us an idea who may be stuck in self-isolation!
For once, I was expecting goals, with no Premier League goalkeeper making more saves so far this season than the two on display today – and that’s what we got inside the first 20 seconds!
Wilson was too strong for Ivanovic and released Joelinton, who slipped a superb past in behind to put Almiron through on goal. The Paraguayan then did the rest with a composed curled finish into the bottom corner. Barely 30 seconds played and we were 1-0 up!
Although it was a very different opponent, we made the mistake of sitting deep and protecting our lead the last time we scored early at home. That was in the 1-4 defeat to Man Utd, but there could be no excuse for the same sort of approach here. They are second bottom, have the PL’s worst defence and are fresh from a 1-5 hammering last weekend.
We had to push for another now we had them on the ropes, and although they did settle down and enjoy a bit of the ball, it was us who had the only clear openings in the next half an hour, with Almiron bursting through and had a low shot saved and Joelinton also seeing his shot blocked by Johnstone after his chop inside completely fooled Ivanovic.
As we approached half-time, we looked relatively comfortable, the team more likely to do damage on the break and had limited them to just one shot on target – which was a tame effort from range that Darlow gathered with ease – but we were too deep and beginning to rest on our laurels, inviting this pretty awful West Brom side back into the game.
They lacked cutting edge, but the Baggies were undoubtedly the better side in the final five minutes and gave us a few warning signs heading into the second half. The game was here for us to win, with Bilic’s side visibly poor at both ends, but they weren’t going to go down without a fight.
The second half kicked off and they’ve made a few changes, bringing on experienced Premier League duo Charlie Auston and Kieran Gibbs. It was clear before the break that they were growing in confidence and edging closer to an equaliser, and that’s exactly what they got that five minutes into the restart.
Phillips burst past Krafth, hung up a floated ball into the box and Furlong met it perfectly to lash across goal and into the bottom corner. A brilliant finish, but poor defending all round – especially from Jamal Lewis, who was guilty of ball watching and got nowhere near his man.
It seems convenient to say this after his error, but Lewis was poor today. Booked for some needless handbags early on, at fault for the goal, timid going forward, suspect defensively and hooked off by Bruce with 20 minutes to play as a result!
It shouldn’t have taken an avoidable West Brom goal to do this, but we needed to get up the pitch, put this poor Baggies side on the back foot and get a grip of a game we’d gradually let slip away from us after that early opener.
Something needed to change if we wanted win this, and the man Bruce brought on very nearly gave us a 2-1 lead, with a corner met by Dwight Gayle headed off the line to deny him an immediate goal on his first appearance of the season.
Talking of players making an immediate impact, Jacob Murphy replaced Krafth and produced the moment of the match, picking out Gayle with a stunning cross from the right.
The former Baggies loanee still had plenty to do, but made no mistake, crashing his header off the bar and in to give us the lead with 10 minutes to play!
We’d generally been getting worse as the game went on, seeming poor value for our late lead, yet it the quality of the goal was brilliant – seeing two of Bruce’s substitutes combine to sink a spirited Baggies side who had been pushing for the winner Bilic badly needed.
Yedlin made a rare appearance late on as we looked to protect our lead and we did exactly that, surviving six minutes of stoppage time to secure back to back wins.
Isaac Hayden was my MOTM today. There weren’t many standout performers in what was a scrappy affair, but he put in some great blocks, timely interceptions and towering headers. We needed him to step up with Fernandez, Lascelles and Schar all missing & he did exactly that!
I said it after the Crystal Palace win and I’ll say it again here – it wasn’t pretty, but it’s another big three points and one that we’d like to dedicate to Martin Lorimer following his tragic passing this week.
Next up another two games against newly promoted sides, with us travelling to Leeds on Wednesday and hosting Fulham at St James’ Park a week today.