When Anthony Martial raced away from our backline in the 34th minute of the Manchester United home game, it seemed there would only be one outcome. Yet our new Slovakian number one, Martin Dubravka, had other ideas. Somehow denying the French forward and laying the groundwork for our first PL home win since October.
Everything about Dubravka’s performance in that game couldn’t help but fill even the most pessimistic of Toon fans with confidence in our latest goalkeeper. Whilst I like both other senior keepers, Elliott and Darlow, as people and professionals, neither have looked up to Premier League quality this season, and that has quite simply cost us precious points.
It finally looks as if Rafa has got the keeper he first wanted last summer, and it could prove decisive in the race to 40 points and assure our Premier League status. But can just one performance provide fans with an unrealistic amount of expectations going forward?
After all, it was not the first stunning debut we have seen at SJP down the years, but not every impressive start leads to a great Newcastle career. It doesn’t always mean the player concerned is able to hit those heights every time he pulls on a black and white shirt.
With that in mind, let’s go back and take a look at some of the best debuts in Newcastle United history.
*Also just to be clear, these debuts are not including friendly matches.
Papiss Demba Cisse V Aston Villa (H) 2012
An obvious one to start but it stands out as one of the most immediate impacts any Newcastle United player has made in recent years. The choice is far from widespread, but Cisse is certainly the biggest January window ‘impact signing’ in the Mike Ashley era.
His home debut against Aston Villa followed the perfect script. With Leon Best departing early in the game, Cisse was introduced from the bench by Alan Pardew, immediately linking up with his national teammate Demba Ba.
Although Villa were struggling, while we were in the race for a Champions League place, it was a pretty tight game with both sides having decent chances. With the score deadlocked at 1-1 and just under 20 minutes to play, Jonas Gutierrez charged down the left wing and swung in a hopeful cross. It fell perfectly to our new Senegalese Shearer just inside the area. Papiss proceeded to take it on the chest before smashing an incredible volley past Shay Given, right in the top corner at the Gallowgate end.
A goal that somehow looks even more perfect each time you watch it. The more bizarre element of his debut was that Cisse’s performance was not purely all about his wonder-strike. His all round game, work rate and link-up play was a joy to watch and he dominated the Villa defence all afternoon.
In truth, this was not an indicator of how he would play in the rest of his time with the Mags. After a dream debut and incredible scoring run in his first half season, Cisse would increasingly appear as the type of striker who if not scoring would contribute nothing expect goals, and when they dried up it was often like playing with 10 players, not helped with his constant desire to stand in offside positions.
His debut did however, demonstrate his knack of scoring astonishing goals, with two at Chelsea at the end of that season an undeniable highlight. In that way, Cisse’s inauguration at SJP was most fitting.
Tino Asprilla V Middlesbrough (A) 1996
From the classic North-Eastern snowy arrival in a fur coat, to the pre-match half glass of wine, the story of Tino’s arrival is well told.
Another debut from the bench, another mid-season signing, Asprilla was such an unknown quantity no defenders in his early appearances looked like they’d be able to deal with his unconventional style.
One-nil down to Boro, in the 67th minute King Kev turned to his new signing. Although he didn’t score himself, Asprilla undoubtedly turned the Tees-Tyne derby almost single-handedly. After bamboozling the Boro full back in his first one-on-one situation he sent over an inch perfect cross headed in by Steve Watson.
The game turned in a flash, the Mags had initially struggled to play their normal fast attacking style up to that point, but Asprilla was a game-changer. It was perhaps a debut that it would be hard for any player to then live up to over the course of a career, but he constantly gave entertainment and a knack for winning a game almost on his own. His first appearance perhaps summed up his Toon career, fleeting but thrilling.
Jonjo Shelvey V West Ham (H) 2016
In my mind, the last player to have a debut as impressive as Dubravka’s was the sky sports official man of the match in that same (Man Utd) game, Jonjo Shelvey.
His debut against West Ham was so impressive I briefly thought we had got Xabi Alonso rather than the former Swansea man. He completely dictated the tempo of the game, almost immediately winning over the crowd with an impressive range of passing. Shelvey’s introduction led to one of the few cohesive performances under McClaren, a brilliant pass into Gini Wijnaldum directly set-up Ayoze Perez for the opener.
The second was also down to the new arrival, with a magnificent long-range pass, switching play to the other flank and right into the path of Daryl Janmatt, who then squared in Winlajdum for the second. Shelvey was applauded off by many at the end of that game, rightly given man of the match. Yet I would argue it remains probably the best game Shelvey has had for the club.
His mobility has been an issue at times this season with his lack of pace exposed more in the Premier League than in the Championship. His disciplinary record at us is also pretty shocking. Inconsistency is the most prominent theme of his career so far and even recently that has shown no signs of letting up.
Even last week he followed up an impressive display against Manchester United, with a desperately disappointing second half against Bournemouth after starting the game well. Improvement is still needed if he is to live up to the bar set with that stunning debut against West Ham,
Malcolm Macdonald V Liverpool (H) 1971
A bit of a cheat this one, as it’s a home debut rather than a full one, but it would hard to do this list without mentioning Malcolm Macdonald’s first game at Gallowgate against Liverpool.
I have watched the footage of this game countless times with the crowd so close to the pitch they are almost in play. The finishes are classic Macdonald, powerhouse efforts that give Ray Clemence no chance, A sign of what was to come for Supermac in the famous number nine shirt. The crowd even chanting his name to the tune of Jesus Christ superstar, completing a real-life Roy-of-the-rovers debut.
The fact he was carried off after being clattered by Clemence when trying to score a fourth, perfectly demonstrates the ruthless goal scoring nature of ‘supermac’. Goals at any cost was the aim. The fact that the Liverpool side featured a certain Kevin Keegan, completes the symmetry of a historic day in the club’s history.
Tim Krul V Palermo, 2006
It is hard to recall a more surprisingly brilliant debut than Tim Krul against Palermo in 2006.
In a season ravaged by injuries, Krul was one of several youth players handed senior debuts to cover first-team absences. At just 18 years old Krul was handed his debut in a European away tie to the Serie A leaders Palermo.
We had just lost 1-0 at home to Sheffield United and were struggling badly in the Premier League. Yet after Albert Luque (and people say Joselu’s bad) had headed in a James Milner cross, incredibly we had a lead and a foothold in the game.
Despite facing an onslaught for near enough the entire second half, Krul brilliantly kept the Italians at bay making save after save, with one incredible double stop standing out as borderline ridiculous.
Luque may have been the match winner on paper, but Krul was the real reason the three points came back to Tyneside.
Krul had his fair share of superb performances during a respectable 11 year career in Toon, but it’s hard to top this performance for standout brilliance. Ironically, his domestic league debut was still four years away in the first game of the championship 09-10 season when replacing Steve Harper at half time after an injury. Krul was brilliant once again in his ‘second debut’, making multiple reaction saves to deny West Brom victory.
He still wasn’t able to wrestle the number one goalkeeping spot for another two seasons, with both of his debuts oddly out of place with the rest of his career, they were also arguably his best performances in a Newcastle shirt.
This list is not comprehensive, just a few that stood out as particularly memorable.
Are there any more stunning debuts from ex-toon players that I have missed?
Which was your personal favourite Newcastle United debut?
Please leave your own top three debuts in the comments section.
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