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Opinion

Steve Bruce’s ears will be burning with these Joe Willock comments

4 months ago
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If anything ever summed up the unbelievable luck Steve Bruce experienced at Newcastle United, it was Joe Willock.

Signed in desperation right at the end of the January 2021 transfer window as a cheap and cheerful token budget recruit, the Arsenal midfielder struck gold for the struggling NUFC Head Coach.

With only one win in their last thirteen games for Bruce and Newcastle, Joe Willock came in and scored only 16 minutes into his debut against Southampton, setting United on their way to a desperately needed 3-2 win.

After only one goal in 40 Premier League appearances for Arsenal, it was some start for the loan player.

Joe Willock stayed in the Newcastle team for the next six games but no more wins, or indeed goals for Willock. Steve Bruce now on a run of only two wins in twenty games and looking ever more desperate and clueless.

With one huge last roll of the dice, Steve Bruce literally appeared to pick the names out of the hat for the following game, dropping half the outfield players, including Joe Willock.

Then 2-1 down at home to Spurs and with 79 minutes on the clock, Steve Bruce sent Joe Willock on. Within six minutes he scored to save Steve Bruce and a point for NUFC.

Next game, Newcastle woeful but Joe Willock left sitting on the bench, instead ASM came on as a sub and by himself turned a 1-0 defeat into a 2-1 win over Burnley in a manic five minute spell.

Following match, cruising 2-1 at half-time against a 10 man West Ham team, Steve Bruce inexplicably went ultra negative, encouraging the Hammers to get back into the game. Which they did, making it 2-2  on 73 minutes and suddenly looked like they were going to go on and win it, despite being a man down. On comes Joe Willock with 80 minutes on the clock, within two minutes scores the winner.

Away to Liverpool next and losing 1-0, on comes Willock again and in the fifth minute of added time grabs a very surprising point for Newcastle.

The rest is history, Steve Bruce finally putting Joe Willock back into the team and the midfielder ending up scoring in the last four games as a starter, scoring in each of the final seven PL games of the season that he featured in.

However, the reality was, that for me, Joe Willock hadn’t actually played all that well overall AND Steve Bruce didn’t have a clue what to do with him – something summed up by Bruce’s reluctance to start him, even when Willock was saving him with goals from the bench.

Incredible luck for Steve Bruce and as for Joe Willock, whilst his overall performances didn’t stand out at all, his finishing had been phenomenal. Talk about right place right time and a man in form, Joe Willock scored his eight goals for Newcastle whilst on loan, from only seventeen chances / shots.

This season, after buying him in the summer, Steve Bruce once again looked not to have a clue in what he was trying to do with Joe Willock. Anonymous performances from the midfielder and Bruce had also somehow managed to totally blunt Willock’s goal threat on top of that.

Nobody would pretend that there has been an instant transformation under Eddie Howe for a player who had ended up looking totally lost. However, after missing from mid-December to mid-January through illness and / or injury, Eddie Howe brought Joe Willock back into the team for Leeds away.

The work behind the scenes from the Head Coach on both Joe Willock and the team overall, now producing a very different looking scenario.

Joe Willock has improved with each of these four matches, as have the team overall, winning three and getting that draw at West Ham when all three points would have been the deserved result. The former Gunner now looking a far far better player who knows exactly what his role now is at the club, a much better player than he ever looked last season despite the goals.

Thing is as well, his overall play has been excellent AND his goal threat is developing all the time, his driving run winning the free-kick that Trippier got the winner from against Villa, the determination and clever touch yesterday to get in the box and win a point against West Ham.

I have a feeling that Steve Bruce’s ears will be burning with these Joe Willock comments…

Joe Willock speaking to BT Sport:

“Eddie Howe is a brilliant manager.

“And not only a brilliant manager, a brilliant person as well.

“He is a manager that we all trust and we are all buying into what he wants to do.

“[He is] A guy that I have a close relationship with, I’m really happy he is here and really happy how far he has taken us.

“Long may it continue.”

Interviewer:

“We can see that collective movement of the whole squad?”

Joe Willock:

“Yes, it shows just the way we are playing, the way we are fighting for each other.

“The way we want to go into every game and win it.

“We are not coming here to sit back.

“We are not coming here to play on the counter-attack.

“We are coming here to press teams high and win football matches.”

Interviewer:

“There is a lot of belief in the whole camp?”

Joe Willock:

“We are looking to look up the table and not down.

“I think as a group, with the manager and staff, we have all the capabilities to go far up the table.

“I thought we were very dominant in the first half and in the second half at some bits. They scored off a free-kick and I think it shows how far we have come as a group, how much [belief] the manager has installed into us.”

Interviewer:

“Clever little touch in the box there, just crept over the line?”

Joe Willock:

“Yes, when I saw it had gone over the line I was so delighted, it has been a long time coming.

“I’m happy just to score and help the team.

“I have just stuck to my task and tried to take onboard what the manager wants me to do

Stats from BBC Sport:

West Ham 1 Newcastle 1 – Saturday 19 February 12.30pm

(Half-time stats in brackets)

Goals:

West Ham:

Dawson 32

Newcastle:

Willock 45+1

Possession was West Ham 47% (40%) Newcastle 53% (60%)

Total shots were West Ham 11 (6) Newcastle 14 (10)

Shots on target were West Ham 3 (3) Newcastle 3 (2)

Corners were West Ham 3 (2) Newcastle 7 (4)

Referee: Chris Kavanagh

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Krafth, Schar, Burn, Targett, Willock (Guimaraes 88), Shelvey, Joelinton, Fraser (Almiron 79), Murphy, Wood

Unused Subs:

Darlow, Lascelles, Dummett, Fernandez, De Bolle, Gayle, Longstaff

(Eddie Howe frustrated with just one point and explains why Allan Saint-Maximin was missing – Read HERE)

(West Ham 1 Newcastle 1 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)

(West Ham 1 Newcastle 1 – Instant NUFC fan / writer reaction to this fully deserved draw – Read HERE)

(David Moyes very honest when reflecting on West Ham 1 Newcastle 1 –  Read HERE)

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