Magpie Memories: West Ham 2 Newcastle 3
As a Newcastle fan, often the very best wins, the ones you remember the most, are the victories that are least expected.
A trip to London to watch Newcastle secure a surprise victory on 23 December 2017 was one of those days – final scoreline West Ham 2 Newcastle 3.
It was a match where as an away fan you travel with absolutely zero expectations of getting a win.
We were in a wretched run of form. Our last win had come on 21 October 2017 and in the nine games that had followed, we had only managed a solitary point, coming back from two goals down away at West Brom to secure an unlikely draw.
We were in the relegation zone and had only amassed 15 points up to that stage of the season. Things were looking bleak.
Any possible hope we had that day seemed to evaporate the moment we saw the team sheet. Looking back at it now it has to be one of the weakest we have ever fielded during our time in the Premier League.
Crippled by injuries or with players out of form this was the eleven that started the game that day:
Elliot, Yedlin, Clark, Lascelles, Manquillo, Ritchie, Saivet, Diame, Atsu, Joselu, Gayle
The midfield in particular was looking especially lightweight, with Jonjo Shelvey suspended, whilst Isaac Hayden and Mikel Merino both missing out through injury.
Saivet was making his first Premier League appearance for almost two years and the rustiness told immediately, as he made a complete mess of a simple pass, leaving Marko Arnautovic one on one with a backpedalling Ciaran Clark. This was a battle that Arnautovic was always going to win as he ghosted past Clark and dispatched a clinical finish past Elliott.
As a fan this was a moment of complete despair, when you start to think of all the miles travelled and money spent to watch yet another disheartening defeat.
But every now and then your team surprises you, and perhaps even more shocking was the immediate redemption of Saivet, who drew the teams level with a brilliant free kick.
There were no goals after that in the first half and we went in at half time level, which I think every fan of a black and white persuasion would agree was a good result given the way we had started the game. Probably also a result that most of us would have taken at full time had it been offered.
However, much more was still to come.
At the start of the second half Ciaran Clark picked up the ball just inside the West Ham half and lofted a lovely ball out to the left where Christian Atsu was waiting.
Atsu showed a deft touch, that is so often lacking from his game, to kill the ball, before tricking Pablo Zabaleta and squaring for the onrushing Mo Diame to lash into the roof of the net.
It quickly got even better, as Atsu and Gayle combined brilliantly to punish a woeful West Ham defence, with Atsu slotting past Adrian to put Newcastle 3-1 up and looking like comfortable victors.
There was always likely to be a sting in the tale though and West Ham had an immediate opportunity to hit back when winning a penalty moments later. However, a poor effort from Andre Ayew was easily saved by Rob Elliott.
There were some nervy moments following the introduction of Andy Carroll from the substitute’s bench, and Ayew did get a goal back, but we managed to hold on to gain a valuable three points.
Looking back at this game now, it is clear to see that it was a real turning point in the 2017-18 season.
Until getting that much needed win the team were devoid of confidence and seemingly in freefall. In the next 10 games, although we only won two of them, we became a much harder team to beat, drawing five games and losing only three.
This was the prelude to four wins on the bounce which would comfortably secure our Premier League status for another season.
The 23 December 2017 was an absolutely crucial moment in the season and a game that will live long in the memory of this Newcastle fan.
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