There’s been a lot for us to celebrate over the past week or two as Newcastle United supporters.
We’ve been riding a high since the takeover was completed in October, but it’s safe to say that the football hadn’t quite caught up to that yet until recently.
We saw an immediate improvement in tactics and stats when Howe took over, but a lot of the results didn’t marry up to the improved performances.
Finally, though, they’re starting to – and we’re starting to grind out tough wins. There are so many things to be positive about, despite the fact Kieran Trippier’s broken foot broke a few hearts on Valentines Day.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest positives is the rebirth of Joelinton. He went from – let’s be honest – a bit of a liability upfront to the player who carries the team in every game. He looks fit as a fiddle, is looking much more confident on the ball, putting in crunching tackles and pocketing some of the best players in the league for 90 minutes a week.
Trippier’s injury is a huge, huge blow to us. It’s a painfully typical Newcastle United situation – come into the team, lift everyone, score consecutive free kicks, then end up with a fractured foot. But as much as losing Trippier scares me, his impact has already been so huge.
The likes of Burn and Fraser have said he’s a leader in the dressing room as well as on the pitch, so his presence around the squad even while injured will be important. Signing him was a massive lift for supporters, but you can see the lift in the squad, too. A player of his calibre brings with him a boost in grit, determination and confidence. As Burn said, we haven’t had quality like him in years.
Speaking of Fraser, what a revelation he’s had. He’s struggled with fitness, and after he was paggered 15 minutes into Palace away in October, I never thought we’d see him play 90 minutes. But he runs himself ragged every game at the minute, pinging in cracking balls and taking down players twice his size – almost literally – and he’s consistently one of our best performers at the moment.
We’re seeing a lot of players improve performance-wise – Fabian Schar looks to be back as his best as he controls the defence and plays the ball out from the back. New defensive signings might have given Lascelles a kick up the backside, because his performance against Everton is the best I’ve seen him play in a long time. Willock has had two cracking games off the bounce, and we’re starting to see hints of the player who almost single-handedly kept us up in the second half of last season.
The new signings are a breath of fresh air, too. It was gutting that Matt Targett couldn’t start against his parent club, because he had such a solid debut. Dan Burn brought an air of calm and class to our defence and is a hugely imposing figure. We don’t exactly have the shortest defenders in the league, but having a man-mountain who can also distribute and play with pace is exciting. He didn’t put a foot wrong against Villa and he’s exactly what we’ve been missing in central defence. He and Schar are definitely my choice for starting centre-backs, yet it’s also a positive that Jamaal Lascelles has played well in his last two outings. Bonus points to Burn for giving no hoots and tearing a chunk out of Mings’ shirt to then throw it into the crowd!
We’ve only seen small glimpses of Bruno so far – which is understandable, because neither Willock nor Shelvey or Joelinton have deserved to be dropped in recent games. But in those 15 or so minutes he’s played so far, you can see his quality. In six touches against Everton, he created a Big Chance™, won two of three duels, and chucked in a tackle for good measure. I’m not sure when he’ll start – I think it’ll take a mistake from Shelvey or Willock, because Howe is rightly loyal to his in-form players – but I can’t wait.
Last, but certainly not least, how good is the atmosphere at St James’ Park at the minute? It feels like we’ve awoken from a slumber. We’re excited again, even when the results were lacking and the football – at times – a touch frustrating. The Wor Flags displays are sublime, we’re getting behind the team more than I’ve seen us do for a long time. We’re chanting songs that I consider away songs at home. The place is rocking, and I haven’t been this excited for matchdays in a long time. The players must be loving it and we are loving them.
In a situation that could only befall Newcastle United, Trippier is injured after coming in and immediately shaking up the squad and scoring goals. Wilson is still out, and our back-up right-back might also be out too. The threat of relegation still looms, but now that we’re out of the bottom three and we can’t be caught by Burnley with their games in hand alone, it feels a lot more comfortable.
These injury blows are huge, devastating, and typical Newcastle United. But with all of these positives on and off the pitch – and there are plenty more that I just don’t have room to cover – I’d say we’re in pretty good nick.