Newcastle will play Premier League football once again next season after easing their way out of relegation trouble with an impressive late run.
The Magpies’ surprise 4-2 win at Champions League-chasing Leicester on Friday evening left West Brom and Fulham on the brink, and they duly followed Sheffield United through the trapdoor.
Head coach Steve Bruce was always confident his team would ease clear of trouble once his “big players” returned from injury and illness. Here, the PA news agency assesses to what extent his faith was well-founded.
Three-sy does it
Newcastle heave invested heavily – by their standards – in recent years to add a threat to the team and although they are yet to see a significant return on the £40million they spent on Brazilian striker Joelinton, Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron have delivered. When Bruce talks about his big players, his attacking triumvirate is at the forefront of his mind, and injuries and Saint-Maximin’s Covid-19 absence mean the three have started just six league games together all season, winning three and drawing one. Indeed, there have been only 16 occasions on which all three have featured in the same game, seven of them resulting in victories – the Magpies have managed 10 in total to date – and two more in draws.
The nick of time
When Bruce took his team to West Brom on March 7 for a potentially crucial survival clash, Wilson, Saint-Maximin and Almiron were all injured and a drab 0-0 draw at the Hawthorns underlined their importance. In total, Wilson missed seven games with a torn hamstring and his side won none of them. The trio played together again for the first time at Burnley on April 11, the £20million former Bournemouth striker and the Frenchman as substitutes, and of the five games in which all three have featured since, they have won three and drawn one.
Where there’s a Wils
The £20million swoop which brought Wilson to St James’ Park last summer has proved as astute a piece of business as Newcastle have done for some time, and the hamstring problem which has ended his campaign has at least come with safety assured. Six of his 12 goals – he has four penalties among his tally – were scored in his first seven games for the club and he has four doubles to his name, against Burnley, Everton home and away and Leicester. Seven of his strikes have come away from home and eight of them against clubs currently in the top eight.
Keeping it real
If Bruce’s frontmen have played key roles in the quest for safety, so too has keeper Martin Dubravka. The Slovakia international, who famously kept a clean sheet on his debut in a 1-0 victory over Manchester United under the man who signed him, Rafael Benitez, missed the start of the campaign after aggravating an ankle injury in pre-season. Karl Darlow performed admirably in his absence, but Dubravka’s return – he made his first league appearance in the 1-1 draw at Wolves on February 27 – has coincided with a run of 10 games which has brought just two defeats along with three wins and five draws.
The Newcastle way
As any long-suffering member of the Toon Army can testify, the Magpies rarely do things the easy way. Five of their 10 league victories – doubles over West Ham and Everton and Friday’s success at Leicester – have come against top-eight sides. By contrast, the eight matches they have played so far against the five teams currently below them in the table – Brighton, Southampton, Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United – have yielded just two wins and include four defeats, the 1-0 reverse at Bramall Lane on January 12 arguably the nadir of a testing campaign.