The first step of a long journey for Newcastle

Date published: Sunday 18th October 2015 6:38

“Whoever’s brought the players in that’s what they need to look (at). He (McClaren) hasn’t brought them players in. It’s about time they started looking to bring in some British players as well. It’s a club full of, it seems to be a French club almost. They (the players) seem to come from everywhere but here.”

One must wonder just what Harry Redknapp was thinking watching those foreigns that Steve McClaren definitely didn’t sign on Sunday evening. Rob Elliot, Paul Dummett and Jack Colback represented Newcastle’s only British players against a Norwich side featuring seven from the start, and yet, somehow, it didn’t matter whatsoever.

Instead, it was Dutch international Georginio Wijnaldum and Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic who led Newcastle to their first Premier League win of the season. While one stroll does not make a summer transfer window, it was a much-needed victory for both club and manager at St James’ Park.

Newcastle had endured a long wait of eight games for their first victory since the final day of last season, but for McClaren himself it must have felt an eternity. The former England boss had won just two league games in his last 21 – against now-relegated Blackpool and Wigan – as his terrible run of form in the dying embers of his tenure at Derby threatened to engulf his return to the Premier League. That two of his summer purchases were at the forefront is merely an added bonus.

Newcastle have resembled a top-flight side on only three-and-a-half occasions so far this season. Against Manchester United, where they showed grit and determination to secure a draw. Against Arsenal, where they attempted the same but narrowly and valiantly fell short. Against Chelsea, where they were unlucky to squander a deserved two-goal lead. Against Manchester City, where for one half of football they at least matched their opponents. The tag of ‘game-raisers’ is a difficult one to shake off, but a comprehensive four-goal victory over a difficult newly-promoted side will help.

For four-goal hero Wijnaldum, little had changed. Newcastle’s third-most expensive ever signing has been comfortably their best player this season, but when your team-mates perform it can only improve your game. With Mitrovic, Ayoze Perez and Moussa Sissoko finally showing evidence of a cumulative £20million worth of talent, Newcastle finally looked like a side capable of achieving their lofty ambitions.

It was almost as if the aforementioned quartet had set out to rubbish the claims Redknapp had made this weekend. Newcastle’s biggest ever transfer window splurge was supposed to signal a new era at St James’ Park, and that Ivan Toney of Northampton was their only British signing was no mistake. Regardless of nationality, Mike Ashley was finally willing to spend big on players whose talent rang out louder than their accent.

Finally, after eight long and disappointing games, McClaren and the Newcastle faithful were able to reap the benefits. Wijnaldum was irresistible in becoming only the second Magpie to score four or more in a Premier League game after a certain Alan Shearer, while Mitrovic continues his rehabilitation following an aggressive start to life in England.

Of course, the 6-2 scoreline more than flatters Newcastle. Twice Norwich pegged them back, and early in the second half the Canaries almost drew level, with Wijnaldum the saviour on the line. Twice Alex Neil’s men hit the post, and when the dust settles and the relief subsides, McClaren must ask questions of Sissoko. The Frenchman assisted three goals in a sumptuous attacking performance, but twice failed to track his man, leading to both of Norwich’s goals.

“I’m pleased for the players because it’s been tough and hard. We showed our strengths of what we are good at but we showed weaknesses by conceding two. Individuals stepped up – that was the key thing. The front four were excellent, especially Gini Wijnaldum. Moussa Sissoko showed strength and power and he showed why he is coveted by the top four. I thought the score could have been anything. We rode our luck and defended quite well. On the break we were terrific.”

McClaren has been (rightfully) derided for many of his comments in the press throughout Newcastle’s struggle, but the above is a fair and frank assessment.

But this is more a period of long-overdue celebration for the boys in white and black. While the pre-season expectation – in McClaren’s words – of “top eight and to win a trophy” already look far-fetched, this is a significant and encouraging step in the right direction.


Matt Stead

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