Newcastle 6 Norwich 2 Sunday 18 October 4pm
Newcastle: Wijnaldum 14, 26, 66, 85 Perez 33 Mitrovic 64
Norwich: Mbokani 20, Redmond 34
After the eternal misery of an international break spent bottom of the league after a six goal thrashing, the chance for redemption finally arrived in the form of another early season must-win game.
Of course, the previous must-win game was lost to Watford in sorry fashion as part of a disastrous start to the season, but I felt this game could be approached with a degree of patience.
Despite our sorry showings we had some difficult fixtures to start with, playing all of the likely top 4 as well as difficult trips to Swansea and a reinvigorated West Ham.
This though began a run of seven games that can be patronisingly categorised as ‘winnable’ and as such became massively important to our hopes for the season.
Having said though, I don’t think we expected this.
United started brightly enough, but we’ve seen this before. Tiote marked his return to the side with a 5 minute booking, making you wonder if he’d last. We then took the lead magnificently, you wondered if it would last.
In a way, our opener was frustratingly good. It was obvious from the start that Sissoko fancied this game and he was unstoppable. When the ball broke free at the edge of the box he swooped on it, glided past a couple of defenders and played in Wijnaldum, who steered the ball past the oncoming Ruddy and in at the far post. Brilliant yes, but utterly frustrating that this Sissoko is seen so sporadically.
The same player prompted further mutterings when Norwich equalised 5 minutes later. Deciding supersonic speed is wasted on defending, Sissoko watched Olsson zip away and centre the ball for Mbokani to knock in from close range, as fine attacking play was belied once more by brittle defending.
Robbie Brady added to the concerns at that end by cracking one against the post, but Norwich only enjoyed a few moments of parity before the same combination combined to lethal effect, Sissoko powering forward and sending over a fine cross for Wijnaldum to head in his second. Everyone in the ground knew it would not end 2-1.
Norwich knew they could get back in the game and began to exploit the freedom they were being given down either flank, so United getting a third against the run of play was a welcome surprise. Sissoko launched a counter attack and played in Perez, whose initial shot was blocked straight back for him to finish in near identical fashion to Wijnaldum’s first.
It was nice to enjoy a bit of a cushion for some seconds before Norwich scored the same type of goal again. Once more the overlapping Olsson was given the freedom of the left and his cross to the back post found Redmond unforgivably unmarked to smack in a fierce finish. The remainder of the first half was excruciating as a world-weary crowd waited for the concession of a comical equaliser that didn’t come.
After the game I heard a bloke saying that he wouldn’t have given anyone odds on Norwich not scoring again at half time, and I think this was very much the general feeling. The crowd stayed fully onside but we’ve all been a bit traumatised these last few years. We needn’t have worried.
The addition of Anita for Tiote seemed to add balance to the midfield and someone seemed to have kindly asked Sissoko to defend a bit occasionally (I’d like to think he was asked to stop Ginola-ing Janmaat’s Beresford) and the second half was similarly Keegan-esque.
For all Wijnaldum’s incredible attacking showing, one of his most vital contributions was in defence, doing his job watching the post to block Bassong’s header on the line as Norwich pushed from a corner.
The mind boggles as to what would have happened at 3-3 but instead United shortly busted forward and scored a killer fourth as (wait for it) Sissoko played a neat ball through to Mitrovic, who controlled it on his chest before sending his power bar up to maximum and releasing a scud missile of a shot that would have shattered Ruddy’s rib cage and knocked him out of his silly pink outfit had he had any chance of getting in the way of it, which he didn’t. Phew, 4-2 might be enough you thought. Or would have thought, except it was 5-2 before you had the chance.
With Perez breaking on the counter the referee played an excellent advantage after he was bundled off the ball. Sissoko sensed he might not be involved in a goal and picked it up to play in Janmaat, via Wijnaldum, who subsequently pegged it into the box to head in his hat-trick, Newcastle’s first since Demba Ba magnificently flipped off Stoke at the Britannia four long forgettable years ago.
As people began to allow themselves to accept that a three goal margin was enough, Redmond cracked the post again for Norwich, who maintained some half-hearted attacks but knew the game was up.
It seemed all settled but Wijnaldum wasn’t quite finished yet. Set away from halfway, Gini was allowed to run towards goal as the marauding Mitrovic created havoc in the Canaries backline. They stood off a bit too much and Wijnaldum unleashed a tremendous dipping strike to beat Pinky all ends up, with the slightest of deflections barely affecting the trajectory.
An astounding showing, technically Gini becomes the first person to score 4 in a Premier League game for NUFC, Alan Shearer having gone on to notch a fifth on the only previous occasion this was managed. Sissoko also claimed a hat-trick of assists for the first time since Andy Cole some 21 years ago, although he’d have got the fantasy football points for the Perez goal too.
Up to 18th and a colossal fixture up next for far more reason than regional bragging rights (although they would be bloody nice after recent times).
This is potentially going one of two ways.
First, the confidence this will bring will see still-winless Sunderland completely overwhelmed, especially if Sissoko and Wijnaldum continue this form into the next match.
Secondly, the unpalatable option of another freeze up could see us all wishing we’d shut up shop at 3-2 and kept 3 goals in the locker.
Hopefully the former will see this game heralded as the day this season/era really got started.
These are the key stats as provided by BBC Sport;
Possession was 44% Newcastle and 56% Norwich
Total shots was 11 for Newcastle and Norwich 18
Shots on target was Newcastle 6 and Norwich 6
While corners was Newcastle 3 and Norwich 7
Team: Elliot, Janmaat, Coloccini, Mbemba, Dummett (Haidara 65), Colback, Tiote (Anita 46), Sissoko, Wijnaldum, Perez, Mitrovic (Cisse 88)
Unused Subs: Woodman, de Jong, Lascelles, Thauvin
Ref: Anthony Taylor