Reasons to be (cautiously) cheerful with Newcastle United
It is important not to get carried away after one positive result but there are finally some encouraging signs of recovery at Newcastle United.
Admittedly, Sunday’s victory was against arguably the worst Manchester United team since the 1970s and it was certainly not enough to banish the memories of the dismal capitulation at Leicester the week before.
However, let’s focus on some of the positives.
Matty Longstaff produced by far the best debut in Newcastle United’s recent history and it was made all the more special by the fact that it was made alongside his brother Sean.
To see two young Geordie lads in central midfield together, controlling the game against Manchester United, was a sight so magnificent as to almost make one forget, even for a second, Newcastle’s dire situation.
For years, the fans have been crying out for players who will show passion for the club and for the black and white shirt. Matty Longstaff certainly has that. To see the raw emotion and pure joy on his face after his perfectly timed drive sailed past David De Gea was to see the dream of every youngster in the Gallowgate End being lived out. He ran to the fans, gripping the Newcastle United badge on his shirt tightly, as if afraid to let it go.
One hopes that he will be allowed to keep hold of that badge and not have it wrestled out of his grasp by Mike Ashley’s desire to cash in on talented young players.
Having homegrown players in the side gives the fans a connection with the team and is something to be encouraged. This connection has been lacking in recent times. Many overseas imports, particularly in the dark days of Alan Pardew and Steve McClaren’s reigns, have fallen firmly in the mercenary category.
Steve Bruce has made many mistakes since taking the Newcastle job. His “It’s not about tactics, it’s about rolling your sleeves up and having a go” moment after the Leicester defeat, in particular, was pure Mike Bassett. However, it is important to give credit where it is due.
Bruce’s men were well drilled and well organised against Manchester United and he deserves credit for that, as well as for giving the Longstaff brothers their heads in the centre of the pitch.
For many of the club’s fans, in particular those on social media, Bruce’s biggest crime is not being Rafa Benitez. It is true that he does not have Benitez’s tactical acumen and only time will tell whether he is his own man or merely another puppet of Mike Ashley.
However, it was refreshing to see Newcastle’s more attacking approach on Sunday and their willingness to take the game to their opponents.
Although Benitez achieved some notable results at Newcastle, too often in the last few seasons the Magpies have put 10 men behind the ball and waited for the inevitable. This approach paid dividends on occasions but it’s frequent use was bordering on the depressing.
Newcastle still have a huge amount of work to do if they are to become a genuine force in the Premier League. It remains to be seen whether Sunday’s result will kick-start the club’s season or whether it will be an isolated victory, not built upon, as the win over Tottenham in August proved to be.
Miguel Almiron is a talented player but he has all the composure of a startled rabbit in front of goal. Allan Saint-Maximin is a rough diamond in need of polishing.
None of this also takes away from the dire situation the club still languishes in under Mike Ashley.
However, unless we are willing to boycott St James Park and the club until Ashley leaves, then we must take pleasure in the small rays of light at the end of the tunnel and the sheer, unadulterated joy of a 19-year-old Geordie boy living every fan’s dream.
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