Who can remember the last time we played as well as we did on Monday night? Because I can’t.
I had a small feeling before the match that we’d turn up against them, but I still didn’t expect that performance. We’ve got a habit of turning up against the supposed top teams at home, especially Man U.
Under Pardew, it was a novelty that quickly got boring as we got battered off the likes of Wigan on a weekly basis. But this felt different.
It did have that hallmark NUFC against Man U at home stamp in terms of the intensity, the effort and the crunching tackles. But it was more than that.
The tactics were spot on. We saw the midfield link up with the front line seamlessly. The defence had shape and sense. Joelinton ran the entire game, pinging crucial balls and taking down players for fun. Ryan Fraser had Varane shaking in his boots. Sean Longstaff looked like the wunderkind who burst onto the scene and attracted attention from the likes of Man U. Miggy was once again a powerhouse sub, who frightened players twice the size of him off the ball.
And, of course, the atmosphere was magical again.
All of that made for a pretty special night at St. James’. The only downside was that we didn’t win when we really, really deserved to.
It feels like everything is stacked up against us at the minute. VAR was suspiciously absent once again, and we’ve potentially lost Callum Wilson – who was outstanding – for months.
And yet, strangely, I’m more hopeful than I was a few weeks ago.
There’s no doubt that we have a huge uphill battle ahead. Right now, it’s hard to even estimate how steep the hill is when Burnley have had more games postponed than us. We didn’t come out of that rough Christmas period of fixtures with as many points as we deserved, but now we effectively have a clean slate, albeit we have a lot of points to make up.
But the football has been infinitely better since Howe came in. We can see a game plan. There’s a cohesion in the team that wasn’t there before. We play to our strengths – mainly, our attacking players – instead of sitting back and hoping for the best. There’s more effort. We can see glimmers of improvement, on occasion, in defence. Joelinton actually looks like a £40m player now that he’s *gasp* being played in position by a competent manager.
The building blocks are there. We have a manager who plays good football and plays for the win, who is clearly having a positive impact on individual players as well as the team. We have a good spine to the team. We have an imminent January transfer window. We have hope and excitement at St. James’ Park once again, which is translating into an atmosphere that’s very clearly bolstering the team.
I was disappointed with the result against Man U, and Wilson’s injury. But there was little else disappointing on that pitch. And it’s given me hope that we might somehow just pull ourselves out of this mess…providing we treat every game like it’s Man U at home over Christmas!