Proof that Steve Bruce got this decision right with Newcastle United
If there was any lingering doubt remaining about the decision to drop Karl Darlow and replace him with Martin Dubravka, then they were surely dispelled after the Slovakian’s outstanding display in Newcastle’s 2-1 victory over Burnley.
A game where Allan Saint-Maximin stole the headlines with a wonderful cameo, which included an assist and a goal to turn the match on its head.
However, it was Martin Dubravka that kept Newcastle in the game, particularly during a difficult first half. Dubravka sparing Paul Dummett’s blushes with an outstanding first half save, while he held firm under a bombardment of long balls and testing crosses from Dwight McNeil.
Dubravka set the foundations for a much needed victory for Steve Bruce’s side as they finally took advantage of yet another defeat for Fulham, to put some welcome breathing space between Newcastle and the bottom three.
With the much needed return of Callum Wilson and Saint Maximin there is also a flicker of optimism that performances may improve between now and the end of the season.
With Jamal Lascelles suffering a stress fracture to his foot in the draw with Tottenham last weekend, this week’s back three consisted of Ciaran Clark, Paul Dummett and Federico Fernandez, while Jacob Murphy and Matt Ritchie retained their places as wing backs.
Joe Willock’s last gasp equaliser against Spurs wasn’t enough to secure him a place in the starting line up with Sean Longstaff, Jonjo Shelvey and Miguel Almiron in the midfield, Joelinton and Dwight Gayle leading the line.
The opening exchanges of the game were fairly even but Burnley gradually grew into the game, and on the half hour mark Chris Wood did well down the left hand side before pulling back to a waiting Matej Vydra, who slotted home. It was a poor goal to concede and it could have been so much worse when Paul Dummett made a hash of a clearance to divert the ball towards his own goal, only for Martin Dubravka to make a brilliant one handed save.
As the half wore on Newcastle came into the game with Dwight Gayle having a goal marginally ruled out for offside. He then had another chance after an excellent cross from Jacob Murphy which Bailey Peacock-Farrell in the Burnley goal did well to save.
From the follow up Sean Longstaff had a big shout for a penalty after James Tarkowski caught him with a high foot but VAR allowed play to continue.
Despite a poor first half I felt confident that with the options on the bench that we had, Newcastle could turn things around in the second half and so it would prove.
Bruce brought on Wilson and Saint-Maximin before the hour mark, replacing the ineffective Gayle and Joelinton, and seven minutes later Newcastle were ahead.
The talented Frenchman showed all his trickery before laying it off for Jacob Murphy to fire in a fine equaliser.
He then followed it up with an excellent solo effort, taking a pass from Jonjo Shelvey in his stride before running at the backpedalling Burnley defenders and slotting home a left footed effort into the bottom corner.
While Martin Dubravka and Allan Saint-Maximin rightly stole the headlines, there were other reasons to be encouraged throughout the rest of the team.
Jacob Murphy continues to thrive in the wing back role. His direct running and pace caused Burnley no end of problems, as it had Spurs the week before, and his finish for the equaliser was superb. After a shaky start Paul Dummett grew in confidence as the game went on, making a number of crucial interventions in the second half, while the return of the steady presence of Federico Fernandez was a welcome one.
After coming in from the cold Sean Longstaff has also impressed me. His running was strong and he was clearly up for the battle, winning some particularly strong challenges in the second half. Miguel Almiron was typically full of endeavour and seemed to come alive when he was joined by Wilson and Saint-Maximin, he was unlucky not to add a third goal after his shot was cleared off the line.
Jonjo Shelvey also had one of his better recent games, and supplied the pass that set Saint-Maximin on his way for the winning goal.
With a very tough run of fixtures coming up, this was quite simply a must win game and to get the three points was a huge relief.
The return from injury of some key attacking players also means that upcoming games aren’t quite as daunting as they once were.
Ultimately, football is a simple game and it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that once we had some attacking threat on the pitch we looked a completely different team. It was also encouraging to see that we had some options on the bench for a change. Too often we have been lacking in that department when we’ve needed something to happen during matches this season.
If there is one note of caution it should be recognised that we were playing a very poor Burnley side, who were missing their best player, Nick Pope.
But a win is a win and hopefully there will be two or three more to follow, to make certain of our Premier League safety.
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