A positive end to pre-season in front of 20,139 fans at St James’ Park, with a Matt Ritchie opener and Dwight Gayle brace handing us a 3-0 win over newly promoted Norwich.
The Canaries were the better side in a first 45 lacking in any real spark, passing the ball around well and looking sharper in all departments, however we were a totally different threat in the second half as Allan Saint-Maximin, Ryan Fraser and Jonjo Shelvey changed the game.
Matt Ritchie opened the scoring just before the half hour mark, before a bright Dwight Gayle bagged twice following some great work from Fraser and Manquillo.
Allan Saint-Maximin had some electric moments after coming on from the bench, while Callum Wilson also came through unscathed after returning from a minor hamstring issue.
STARTING 11: (5-3-2) – Woodman – Murphy, Krafth, Fernandez (c), Clark, Ritchie – Hayden, S Longstaff, Almiron – Joelinton, Wilson.
SUBS: Gillespie, M Longstaff, Schar, Lascelles, Shelvey, Saint-Maximin, Gayle, Lewis, Hendrick, Manquillo, Fraser, Langley, Watts.
It was a huge boost to see Callum Wilson start, suggesting his hamstring is OK, with Miguel Almiron also straight into the starting XI after only returning from his extended pre-season break earlier this week.
Allan Saint-Maximin’s return to the bench was also a positive sign after the Frenchman sat out of our last three pre-season friendlies through illness.
Missing was Karl Darlow and Martin Dubravka – meaning Woodman looks highly likely to start against West Ham next weekend – while U23 talents Elliot Anderson (injury) and Joe White failed to make the matchday squad.
Norwich saw plenty of the ball early on and tested Woodman with the first shot of the game. We were pressing high and trying to unsettle the visiting side’s back three. Joelinton and Hayden nicked it back a couple of times, but the final ball that followed was often lacking.
Woodman then did well again at the other end to parry clear a fierce volley from summer signing Pierre Lees-Melou – the former Nice midfielder who was chatting at length to Saint-Maximin before kick off.
Norwich were on top, with a tame effort from Callum Wilson the only effort we managed as we approached the 20 minute mark.
Things did improve from a NUFC perspective – Almiron was a lively outlet and Murphy energetic down the right – however we were struggling to enjoy sustained periods of possession and looked pedestrian when we did against a Norwich side who looked brighter on the ball.
Almiron aside, our engine room looked slow and static, reminding us all how badly we needed Joe Willock back. In a midfield three that had a five-man defence behind them, Hayden and Sean Longstaff were sitting too deep.
We were also trying to play out from the back, but it was a struggled based on the lack of ball-playing defenders at our disposal.
The half-time whistle went and it’s fair to say Norwich had been the better side, looking sharper in all departments across the first 45.
The players returned to the field and Bruce – who visited the NUFC Foodbank before the game – had made three changes, as Allan Saint-Maximin, Ryan Fraser and Jonjo Shelvey replaced Joelinton, Miguel Almiron and Sean Longstaff.
As expected, it was ASM who immediately got Newcastle fans on their feet, with the Frenchman bursting past a few bright orange shirts to inject some much needed spark to the game.
Ryan Fraser then broke free down the line and almost played Wilson in, only for his cross to be too close to Tim Krul.
The former Bournemouth star was then involved again moments later, as his ball over the top put Saint-Maximin in behind. Krul came out to meet him, got nowhere near it and was forced to retreat, with Fraser’s creativity, Shelvey’s searching balls in behind and ASM’s sheer pace and trickery helping us unsettle a previously comfortable Norwich side.
After a much improved start to the 2nd half, we then found the breakthrough on 55 minutes.
Norwich lost the ball in a bad area, Wilson held up the ball well after latching onto a deflected shot and Ritchie arrived in the midst of a goal-mouth scramble to prod home. 1-0 Newcastle!
The three subs were making a huge difference, with us also benefiting from a slight tweak in midfield. After a double pivot behind Miguel Almiron left attackers looking isolated in the first 45, Fraser and Hayden were now breaking forward in front of a sitting Jonjo Shelvey.
Teemu Pukki entered the field on the 60th minute mark – the man who bagged a hat-trick against us in Bruce’s first away game as NUFC manager – and that substitution was quickly followed by FIVE changes by Steve Bruce.
Jamal Lewis came on against his former club, replacing goal scorer Matt Ritchie, while Dwight Gayle, Jeff Hendrick, Fabian Schar and Jamaal Lascelles replaced Callum Wilson, Isaac Hayden, Emil Krafth and Federico Fernandez.
74 minutes on the clock and it was 2-0 Newcastle thanks to some lovely link up play between Fraser and Gayle.
We won the ball high up the field once again, Fraser put Gayle in behind with a perfectly weighted through ball and the NUFC striker finished superbly, curling past Krul with the outside of his boost.
Minutes later, it was very nearly 3-0 as Allan Saint-Maximin burst through on goal after being played through brilliantly by Ciaran Clark. The Frenchman probably took too long to get a shot off, however it was a superb last ditch challenge from Omobamidele.
A fit-again Javier Manquillo then came on for his first appearance of pre-season, with he and local lad Kell Watts replacing Jacob Murphy and a cautioned Ciaran Clark for the final 10 minutes.
The Spaniard was involved soon after and played a key part in our third, with his superb cross being converted at close range by Dwight Gayle. Two goals for him and 3-0 Newcastle!
3-0 Newcastle, an impressive second half display – making up for what was a flat first 45 minutes – a good run out for returning duo Saint-Maximin and Shelvey and also great to see Wilson come through unscathed.
Next up, West Ham at home a week on Sunday in our opening game of the 2021/22 Premier League season.
Now for a few new signings…