Newcastle United won again at St James’ Park to make it eight games unbeaten at home.
Miguel Almiron’s goal lifted this match above the mediocre but there was plenty to like about a day when the Paraguayan finally got off the mark. Here, Football Publishing Editor runs down the moments you might have missed.
Miguel Almiron’s celebration
What a curious Newcastle United season this is turning out to be.
Notwithstanding an enterprising start, for 89 minutes this was largely numbing stuff but then Almiron’s half volley turned it into another “I was there” moment in a campaign that is providing plenty of them. For Matty Longstaff’s debut goal, Jonjo Shelvey’s Man City sickener, Allan Saint-Maximin’s afterburners against West Ham and Andy Carroll’s barnstorming cameo, here was Almiron’s long wait ended in a style.
The reaction was every bit as you imagined it would be: Almiron racing to the touchline to be engulfed by teammates who were simply delighted for the popular Paraguayan. Everywhere you looked there were things to love: embracing the young fan in the crowd, Carroll bouncing onto his shoulders, the roar from St James’ Park that lifted the roof off the place, Shelvey lifting him off his feet and then – finally – his gesture to the Gallowgate to thank them for their support.
And if your eyes weren’t trained on his colleagues lovebombing Almiron, there was the sight of Steve Bruce running onto the pitch and doing – in his own words – his “best Jose Mourinho impression”.
Truly, it was some moment.
The viral video that you need to watch
With nearly 1,500 likes on Twitter, Newcastle fan Victoria Najafi’s video – shared on Twitter – was a must-watch.
She had the best seat in the house to see the goal and then Almiron’s run to the touchline and superb celebration. It’s what you go to football for.
Steve Bruce’s man management skills
Those who’ve played under Bruce speak highly of him and this squad are enjoying things under a Head Coach who seems to be having the time of his life.
Bruce is a player’s manager and he has backed Miguel Almiron through thick and thin, so the bear hug that he gave him as he came off the field was as genuine as they come. He threw a similarly protective arm around Joelinton when he was asked about the striker afterwards – and believes supporting him is the best way to drag him out of his rough spell.
Steve Bruce’s ‘pass’
There was a moment in the second half when the ball rolled to Bruce on the touchline and he rolled it back onto the pitch before giving a ‘Still got it’ sort of smile in the direction of the fourth official.
With the game going through a bit of a flat spell, it was a rare moment to raise interest.
Fabian Schar back on the march
They haven’t scored for a couple of games, but Newcastle’s defenders are still doing the business in the final third.
Schar had one of his trademark runs in the first half but in the second he made a more crucial intervention when it was his cross that landed on Andy Carroll’s head to tee up Almiron’s finish. Schar really is a fine offensive outlet for the Magpies.
A tactical shift from Bruce
Was this Newcastle’s Plan B? Joelinton was deployed alongside Carroll in the first half as United tried something different, with Isaac Hayden given more a forward-thinking role and Shelvey moved into the quarterback position.
Did it work? The jury’s out but this was another example of Bruce’s more instinctive approach to tactics than his predecessor, who was measured and disciplined. Bruce works a bit off the cuff and while this approach needs refining, it did result in a win and more possession – however rough it was for long spells.
Martin Dubravka does it again
How good has the Slovakia stopper been this season?
Almiron swipes the headlines for notching the winner but it was Dubravka who made the most telling contribution with a string of superb saves. His first half stop from Wilfried Zaha was especially good as he showed a strong hand to keep out the winger.
Javier Manquillo “the best player on the pitch”
Unwanted in pre-season, Manquillo kept “one of the best wingers in Europe” in Zaha very, very quiet.
Bruce rated him as the “best player on the field” after the game and it was just the latest fine performance from Manquillo, who is a player transformed of late. The cynic would say that, like a few others in the team, he is playing for a new contract but on this sort of form you couldn’t argue with him getting one.
Joelinton struggles again – but celebrates Almiron’s win
The win washed away some genuine concerns about Newcastle’s lack of cutting edge and midfield medicority for spells but the biggest issue remains what to do about Joelinton. The striker was withdrawn early to make way for Dwight Gayle after another game where he won knockdowns and toiled but showed little to suggest he’s about to create or score the goals he was signed to do anytime soon.
The striker is a long-term project and one that Bruce remains enthusiastic about but there must be frustration somewhere at his current level of performance.
Fair play to him, though, he was out of his seat when Almiron’s goal went in and clearly delighted for his colleague.
Florian Lejeune’s return was brilliant
The first pass reminded us of why Lejeune is such a miss. He is a class act in the back four, adding authority and assurance to Newcastle’s defence.
It’s a good crop of defenders but the Frenchman is probably the best of them.
It would take a heart of stone to begrudge Steve Bruce these moments
25 points, four off the Champions League spots and clearly enjoying himself, who would have thought this 84 days ago as a chastened Bruce left Leicester?
The fact is he’s proven a more able tactician and motivator than many would have given him credit and while the margins are so, so fine (they could have lost here like they might have done against Southampton or Sheffield United) it would be churlish to deny the impact he and his coaching staff are having so far this season.
He ordered a bucket of beer bottles for the press pack in a no-hard-feelings show of festive cheer and there will be a few drinking to Bruce’s Magpies tonight. There is a tough Christmas programme ahead before an FA Cup game at Rochdale they must take seriously – but Newcastle can attack it now as they stand five wins from hitting the 40-point mark.