And breathe!! A five-goal thriller at St James’ Park and frankly ridiculous game of football.
After going in 2-0 up at the break against a 10-men West Ham side, we looked set to throw away two precious points and leave with a frustrating 2-2 draw…until Joe Willock’s late header secured a massive 3-2 win!
Saint-Maximin forced Diop into an early own goal and Joelinton made it two thanks to an awful Fabianski error, however a Diop header at the other end was followed by a late Lingard penalty – only for our Arsenal loanee to turn up with yet another crucial strike of his own in the 83rd minute.
The result sends us NINE clear of third bottom Fulham and sends us up to 15th, handing our survival hopes another monumental boost.
It was a nail-biting end and very nearly a disastrous result after some truly awful game management in the second half, but we showed our character in the end and hung on for a precious three points.
There was just ONE change made by Steve Bruce from last Sunday’s 2-1 win over Burnley, seeing Allan Saint-Maximin come in for Dwight Gayle – a decision that saw Callum Wilson start from the bench once again.
West Ham were without FOUR first-team players in Michail Antonio, Declan Rice, Aaron Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku, however they were boosted by the return of Angelo Ogbonna – the Italian centre-back who’s been one of their standout performers this season.
The game kicked off at a sunny St James’ Park and it was a pretty cagey opening 10 minutes. Aside from a deflected Longstaff shot after some good work from Almiron and a burst into the box by Saint-Maximin, there was little to report.
Joelinton had started with a few nice layoffs and pounced on a loose ball to get Dawson booked 12 minutes in, beating his man before being cynically fouled. The resultant free kick came to nothing but was followed a few minutes later by a swift counter-attack that ended in a well hit strike from Murphy forcing Fabianski into his first save of the match.
A needless trip from Shelvey then got him in the referees book, and the stand-in skipper was then beaten in the air by the resultant free-kick – only for Dawson’s powerful header to fly straight at Dubravka.
20 minutes in and it’s fair to say we had shaded it. West Ham had 63% of the ball but looked laboured on it, while we were showing real intent on the break, getting shots away and seeing ASM get plenty of joy in that pocket between midfield and defence.
One criticism was the cheap free kicks we were handing to a big West Ham side who score a lot of goals from set pieces. We’d defended well on the whole in the opening 30 minutes, but began to sit deeper and deeper as the half wore on – handing confidence to a Hammers side who hadn’t really been at the races so far.
Five minutes later, the biggest moment of the first half arrived to hand us a HUGE double boost.
Joelinton reacted first to an awful touch on half-way from Dawson and was clattered by the big centre-back; who’d already been booked. Saint-Maximin latched onto the loose ball, burst past Noble and saw his shot across goal deflect in off Diop. 1-0 Newcastle AND a deserved second yellow for Dawson to put the Hammers down to 10 men!
If one up and a man up wasn’t enough, we then benefited from yet another West Ham error just a few minutes later – only this time it was Joelinton who benefited.
Ritchie floated a corner into the box and Fabianski somehow dropped the ball, gifting Joelinton a tap in! Two goals in three for the Brazilian – capping off an impressive first half from the big man – and 2-0 to the Toon!
We almost made it three before the break, with an inspired Joelinton shifting it wide and firing a shot across goal that was well saved, however we settled for two and went into the break with our trails well and truly up.
West Ham looked rattled and ragged, being well below their best and full of costly errors, but that can’t take away from the way we pounced on mistakes and hit them on the break. We’d also defended well up until this point, keeping danger man Jesse Lingard quiet and often winning first and second balls from free kicks.
The players came out for the second half and it really did feel like we were 45 minutes away from safety. I’m sure I joined every Newcastle fan in still being a tad anxious – we rarely do things the easy way – but this was a MASSIVE chance to make it back to back wins and move NINE points clear of third bottom Fulham.
West Ham continued to have more of the ball and looked eager to land an immediate response, showing the urgency they often lacked in the first 45. That said, we were the side managing to get shots away as we continued to find space on the counter.
Sitting deep and surrendering possession was a little frustrating – giving the away side belief they might be able to mount an unlikely comeback. It didn’t look like 11 vs 10 and they were still just a goal away from getting right back into this.
I’d have been tempted to take Shelvey off at this point. Not only is he about as mobile as my 87-year-old gran, he was on a booking and therefore one silly tackle away from making it 10 vs 10.
With 64 minutes on the clock, Bruce brought Wilson on – a man who has eight goals in nine career appearances against the Hammers. Worryingly, however, he replaced the outstanding Saint-Maximin who looked in a bit of pain as he limped slowly off the pitch.
At this point we were continuing to invite West Ham onto us, giving them 60% of the ball, several corners and a few half chances that fortunately didn’t find the net, with a Coufal header hit straight at Dubravka to keep it at 2-0.
We looked edgy and had gone into our shells. Our major weapon on the counter was off in Saint-Maximin and we were struggling to keep the ball. 20 minutes remaining, 2-0 up and against 10 men, yet it did feel like we were asking for trouble.
A few minutes later and we got what we were asking for. Bowen floated a ball into the box and Diop beat the offside trap to head home past Dubravka. 2-1 and a really poor goal to give away, leaving us with a needlessly nervy final 15.
Danger then turned into disaster as a careless Clark handball was checked by VAR. It looked dodgy and Kevin Friend pointed to the spot after checking the monitor. Lingard stepped up and smashed the ball in off the post. 2-2 and a complete and utter collapse from Newcastle, yet one we were asking for following such a negative and passive approach to the second half.
As if by magic, we suddenly responded like a side playing against 10 men and started to attack again, with Willock replacing Sean Longstaff.
First we had Murphy denied by an incredible goal-line clearance after Joelinton, Wilson and Almiron combined on the counter. An unbearable close shave, but we went one better just seconds later.
Ritchie swung in and inviting cross from the left and Willock arrived in the box as he so often does. He climbed highest, and powered his header in off the crossbar to make it 3-2! It shouldn’t have come to this, but it was a brilliant response and yet another decisive late goal from the Arsenal loanee.
Moments later, West Ham’s man of the moment Jesse Lingard looked in some pain and was holding his hamstring, forcing the Hammers to bring on Lanzini in his place.
To Bruce’s bemusement, the fourth official then signalled there’d be EIGHT minutes of added on time, giving West Ham time to find yet another equaliser in this frankly ridiculous game of football.
We ran down the clock expertly for the first half of stoppage time but conceded a corner that thankfully came to nothing. Two minutes remaining and you got the feeling we were 120 seconds from safety.
Andy Carroll then came on for a late cameo against his former club and we saw the game out, confirming back to back wins and a surprise double of Champions League chasing West Ham!
A crazy 98 minutes of football that involved just about every emotion, but ultimately a monumental win that moves us within touching distance of Premier League survival.
Next up, a tough-looking trip to face Liverpool at Anfield next Saturday lunchtime.