Newcastle’s emphatic run to the Champions League fueled by unlikely heroes

·4-min read
Jacob Murphy points to Alexander Isak after Newcastle’s fourth   (Getty Images)
Jacob Murphy points to Alexander Isak after Newcastle’s fourth (Getty Images)

The Championship beckoned for Newcastle when Eddie Howe took over. The Champions League does now. After smashing Spurs, they eviscerated Everton. With 10 goals in back-to-back, unexpectedly emphatic victories, with a seventh win in eight games, it feels ever likelier that Newcastle will head to more exotic destinations next season and, indeed, that they will not be visiting Goodison Park at all.

Howe was probably the happiest Evertonian on Merseyside, victory taking him closer to getting a huge reward for a season of overachievement, but it may be tinged with sadness at the probable fate of his boyhood club. A clash of clubs who have had takeovers and injections of investment and ambition in recent years provided a case study of what clever and scattergun spending can achieve. Historic highs and lows loom closer: a first appearance in the Champions League for 20 years for Newcastle, a first relegation in 71 for Everton. It was a shocking night for Sean Dyche’s side.

The chants of “going down” from the United supporters were predictable. Newcastle’s rise has been powered by men on the way up: Bournemouth were at the foot of the Football League when Howe took over, Newcastle winless in the Premier League when he assumed the reins at St James’ Park. Callum Wilson, signed by Howe for Bournemouth, then in the Championship, from Coventry, then in League One, felt a fitting match-winner for men with lowlier football origins and seemingly grander places ahead on their journeys from relative obscurity.

Wilson’s two goals, the first predatory, the second spectacular, highlighted what Everton lack: a scorer. Their goal had a freakish element, Dwight McNeil’s corner evading everyone and sailing straight in. Newcastle had a reprieve when Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who was fractionally offside when he dinked in an equaliser on the stroke of half-time, but they required no such luck. Strategy is paying off.

Howe had showed a sure touch. He had ignored the truism to never change a winning team and benched the two men who scored quickfire braces against Tottenham, in Jacob Murphy and Alexander Isak. Instead, each came off the bench to combine for Newcastle’s fourth: Isak embarked on a mazy run, beating defenders time and again and rolled the ball across the box. Murphy had a tap-in: after one goal in 70 games, he now has three in two. He is emblematic of the transformation of Newcastle.

Demoting Isak had afforded Wilson a start. Howe has the luxury of two in-form centre-forwards and a brace took the England international’s tally to six goals in as many games. He is still more potent against Everton, with eight in six.

Goals dried up for Wilson and Newcastle alike early in 2023 but each has found form for the run-in. Everton found it hard to contain him. When Joelinton powered forward, evaded Ben Godfrey with a sharp turn infield and shot, Jordan Pickford, who can parry too many efforts straight out, pushed it to Wilson, who finished. His second, and Newcastle’s third, was curled into the top corner from 20 yards with perfect precision.

Wilson struck twice to reward Howe’s faith (Getty Images)
Wilson struck twice to reward Howe’s faith (Getty Images)

His strikes sandwiched Joelinton’s second goal in as many games. The Brazilian, Newcastle’s great misfit before Howe’s arrival, is another symbolic figure, a sign of the improvement that has come within. The catalyst for the opener on Sunday, Joelinton had the same effect again, albeit not as quickly. Once again, he found the scoresheet, also later on. Joe Willock, who increasingly had the beating of Godfrey, reached the byline and crossed. Joelinton had a simple task to head in.

That different beginning was a sign of Newcastle’s game management. They blitzed Tottenham from the start. They adopted a more patient approach at Goodison Park, aware Everton were likely to begin in a frenzy of energy but ultimately overpowering them. Having reinforcements of the calibre of Isak helped but, as the game progressed, as the Evertonian welcome of blue smoke and fireworks faded from the memory, the physicality of Willock, Joelinton and co exerted a greater impact.

It extended part of a hugely impressive record. Newcastle’s flagship wins this season have come against Manchester United and Tottenham but their top-four charge has come from consistency, from a form of invincibility. They are unbeaten against the bottom 13 and, weathered the early storm and ended up with an almost embarrassing level of superiority. Pickford twice denied the excellent Willock. Fabian Schar had a fifth ruled out because Dan Burn was offside. It mattered not. The celebrations of both the players and the supporters reflected the magnitude of the win, the massiveness of the week. The European elite look on the agenda for Newcastle while Everton may have dates with Plymouth and Rotherham.