A successful end to pre-season as Newcastle United won their second game in as many days on Tyneside, overcoming Athletic Bilbao 2-1 thanks to goals from Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin.
The 47,000 inside St James’ Park – an incredible attendance for a summer friendly – were treated to a superb first half display, seeing us dominate possession, enjoyed sustained periods of pressure, press relentlessly and play some lovely stuff as the La Liga side struggled to cope with our intensity both on and off the ball.
Wilson gave us the lead just five minutes in. After some great approach play from Saint-Maximin and a clever flick from Matt Ritchie, our fit-again number nine finished emphatically, barging his man off the ball before firing into the far corner with his left foot. It was Wilson at his best and great to see the striker looking sharp after he struggled against Benfica on Tuesday night.
Bruno Guimaraes ran the show in the opening 45. If it wasn’t his sensational passing, clever flicks or silky turns that had St James’ Park on their feet, it was his non-stop pressing and perfectly timed tackles that had fans chanting his name. He really did look a level above the rest at times – which is saying something when so many played well in that first half!
Fellow Brazilian Joelinton was also a battering ram and covering every blade of grass alongside the equally mobile Joe Willock, with Saint-Maximin also a menace down the left, releasing the ball a little quicker after beating his man and working hard in the other direction to help out Paul Dummett.
The Frenchman got his reward in the second half, latching onto a Joelinton through ball, bursting infield and slotting home superbly before doing a few back flips as the Gallowgate End erupted. I don’t know what was better, the run, finish or acrobatic celebration!
I loved just about everything I saw from Sven Botman. He’s not only an absolute giant who won everything in the air, but moved gracefully on the ground, barely misplaced a pass and is clearly no slouch, either. Early days, obviously, yet it felt like we were watching a Rolls Royce centre-back.
We struggled defensively in the second half, with Bilbao often getting in down the flanks, but the big Dutchman was regularly in position to cut out the danger as red and white shirts burst into the box.
For Bilbao’s goal, Dummett didn’t do enough to stop the cross and a back-peddling Emil Krafth was beaten in the air by Spanish veteran Raul Garcia. The Swede was one of many who looked pretty shattered in the closing stages, with some still adjusting to our new pressing game and SEVEN friendlies in the space of a month!
The visitors hit the post soon after and had chances to make it 2-2, but we held on in the end, appearing to tire after a sensational, high-intensity first half display we’ll be looking to replicate when Nottingham Forest come to town next weekend.
Matty Bondswell got another cameo, replacing Dummett for the final 20 minutes, while Matty Longstaff, Lucas De Bolle and Mexican loanee Santiago Munoz also appearing for the last few minutes.
Howe will be wary of the way our levels dropped in the final half an hour, however it was another great workout against a capable side, featuring several confidence boosting displays, no injuries and just shy of 88,000 supporters at St James’ Park. If anything sums up the buzz around to city ahead of the new season, it’s that last line! Incredible.
Here’s today’s starting XI and subs, followed by full highlights courtesy of Athletic Bilbao’s official Twitter account, featuring Wilson and Saint-Maximin’s goals, Raul Garcia’s header and some late chances the Spaniards spurned:
STARTING XI: Dubravka – Krafth, Lascelles, Botman, Dummett – Willock, Guimaraes, Joelinton – Ritchie, Wilson, Saint-Maximin.
SUBS: Gillespie, M.Longstaff (89), De Bolle (89), Munoz (90), Bondswell (70), Stephenson, Turner-Cooke, A.Murphy, L.Miley.