Eddie Howe’s first Newcastle game was against Brentford and featured six goals. Same again, but so very different on the takeover anniversary.
The passage of time is no guarantee of change in football. In October 2021, Gareth Southgate was no longer turning England on, Manchester United suffered an embarrassing defeat to their bitter rivals – 5-0 to Liverpool – and Steve Bruce was being vilified by fans of a club which predominantly played in white and dark stripes en route to an inevitable sacking.
The following month, Newcastle shared six goals in a pulsating game with Brentford.
A year later, Southgate is limping to the World Cup, Manchester United are still reeling from being humbled by Manchester City, West Brom supporters are requesting that Steve Bruce vacate the premises as soon as possible and Newcastle split half a dozen goals with Brentford again.
The Magpies rather wisely opted not to divide them equally this time. In what was ostensibly Eddie Howe’s first match as manager 12 months ago, Newcastle played out a 3-3 draw with the Bees which seemed to confirm the suspicions held by many: this would be his Bournemouth side on oil-soaked steroids, a team which could attack ferociously while scoffing at the overall concept of defending.
Howe was not in attendance for that game. Jason Tindall took charge from the sidelines, in constant communication with his coronavirus-riddled superior. But the Newcastle manager has been at the forefront of the club’s remarkable evolution since.
Another visit of Brentford was a fitting way to mark the one-year anniversary of Newcastle’s PIF takeover, celebrated like a national holiday in the north east this week. There were long-reads aplenty, peculiar Chronicle live blogs, a huge Sky Sports-themed banner commemorating the release of those Mike Ashley shackles and, as has been the case for much of his tenure, difficult press conference questions for Howe to sidestep with his usual answer: that he’ll stick to his “specialist subject” of football, thank you very much.
Absolutely insane banner from the Newcastle fans of the Sky Sports News L-shape 🤯 pic.twitter.com/Um95YFWoXS
— Jay Harris (@jaydmharris) October 8, 2022
In the interests of fairness, Howe could withstand a couple of quickfire rounds with Magnus Magnusson on the basis of his year at St James’ Park thus far. With this result, Newcastle remain 6th in a Premier League table comprised of results since his first match in charge; a 35-game period is no ordinary new-manager bounce. The Magpies have five more points than Manchester United in that time.
They also rose to 5th in the actual Premier League table but that is obviously of far less importance.
It was after that 3-3 draw when Thomas Frank was asked, as Brentford manager, what differences he noticed in Newcastle after not even a fortnight of Howe coaching. He suggested “there was much more of a willingness to keep possession”. He referred to “a team that wanted to play a bit more”. He mentioned how they were “very front-footed”. He admired how they were “aggressive in the pressure”.
And how. And Howe. If those improvements were indicative only of a typical honeymoon period, a 5-1 thrashing of Frank’s Brentford showed just how healthy this marriage remains.
Newcastle were phenomenal. They completely smothered Brentford, who have rarely been made to look so overawed since their top-flight bow. They had absolutely no answer to the constant duress they were put under. Their hosts were remarkably unwelcoming.
Premier League Pressing pic.twitter.com/6oJnBzXjQV
— Scott Willis (@oh_that_crab) October 6, 2022
The obvious retort is to diminish or undermine Newcastle’s growth by putting it solely down to the increase in investment. It is certainly a factor; Bruno Guimaraes is a ludicrous player, spraying crossfield balls one minute, scoring diving headers the next and then still finding time to slap one in from 25 yards or so.
He would not be playing in black and white under the previous regime.
Nick Pope, Kieran Trippier, Sven Botman and Dan Burn have undoubtedly helped refine the defence, too.
But so much of this team was inherited by Howe rather than bought. Sean Longstaff has been restored to his past best. Joe Willock’s effectiveness grows with each week. A forward line of Miguel Almiron, Callum Wilson and Jacob Murphy would once have doubled the chills already being sent down the spines of topless Newcastle fans in winter but they led this torment of Brentford from the front in every sense.
The second and fourth goals do not happen by accident. Wilson and Murphy teamed up to panic Josh Dasilva and David Raya for the first, before Almiron alone terrified Ethan Pinnock. The Bournemouth centre-half’s own goal eight minutes later was the consequence of an hour and a half which must have been as torturous mentally as it was physically.
All this was done with Allan Saint-Maximin only introduced for a cursory late appearance as a substitute, with record signing Alexander Isak not even making the bench. There was no Jonjo Shelvey, no Joelinton until late on. And the fact they are even deemed worthy of mentioning as key players Newcastle thrived without is testament to the brilliance of Howe, who is raising the floor and the ceiling at St James’.
This time last year, they still hadn’t won a game and there was genuine panic in some quarters that Newcastle would not allow Bruce to reach 1,000 matches as a manager. He was afforded that landmark but dislodged for Howe soon after and the Magpies have not looked back since. They are flying.
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