Eddie Howe salutes Newcatle fans after a draw at West Ham
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So vertiginous were the heights scaled by Newcastle on Wednesday, with their 4-1 dismantling of Paris Saint-Germain, it was almost inevitable that Eddie Howe’s men would be brought down to earth at the London Stadium, forced to dig deep to eke out a result against a resilient West Ham.
The Magpies could have picked up a fifth straight win, in fact, had a brilliant late equaliser from Hammers’ substitute Mohammed Kudus not rescued a point for the home team. It was a fair result. Where Newcastle were full of cunning and elan against PSG, here on a sunny Sunday in east London they were visibly running on empty, deservedly going into the break 1-0 down.
West Ham, like their opponents, had been in action midweek, but David Moyes was able to make five changes from their 2-1 win at Freiburg. No such luxury for Howe: Sven Botman, Joelinton, Joe Willock and Harvey Barnes all remain on the treatment table, while Callum Willson – scorer of 12 goals in 13 games against West Ham over the years – was reduced to a late cameo here, so determined is the manager not to rush his No 9 back from injury.
That they were stretched showed right from the outset. Gone was the usual high intensity; in its stead was a lethargy that allowed Emerson Palmieri in on the left, with Jamal Lascelles caught out of position. The Italian international was able to nip the ball beyond Nick Pope, the Newcastle keeper having hurtled off his line, before squaring to Tomas Soucek for an easy tap in. It was the defibrillator the game needed.
The Europa Conference League champions were buoyant, with James Ward-Prowse winning the midfield battle and 33-year-old Michail Antonio, back in the side after a hip injury, causing problems for a defence that had kept Kylian Mbappe at bay only a few days earlier.
Newcastle, on the other hand, continued to stumble soporifically through the first 40 minutes. There was no composure. No urgency. When Sean Longstaff lofted a pass into the stands, most Newcastle fans would have settled for a point there and then. Bruno Guimaraes, so often the fulcrum around which Newcastle operate, was not on his game – and was very fortunate to still be on the field. The Brazilian was booked for tripping Emerson; 90 seconds later, he somehow evaded a second card for scything down Ward-Prowse. Even Alan Shearer, on Match of the Day, admitted Guimaraes should have seen red.
As half-time approached, though, the visitors began to show flickers of life. Miguel Almiron, cutting in from the right, curled a rasping shot just over the crossbar. Soon after, the Paraguayan won a free-kick from which Dan Burn’s glancing header slipped narrowly wide of the post. But Howe’s verdict was accurate: “Really tough first half for us,” he said. “We weren’t ourselves. We just didn’t have much rhythm in the game.”
They regained some after the interval. Kieran Trippier increasingly found himself in space down the right, while Guimaraes was now in his groove, adding vim and ballast to the midfield. The passing was crisp; Newcastle’s confidence grew. Even more so after Edson Álvarez headed wide for West Ham from Ward-Prowse’s corner.
When Alphonse Areola was called upon to make a fine save to deny Burn after the left back climbed to meet Alexander Isak’s beautiful dink to the far post, an equaliser seemed nigh. It was. Lucas Paquetá was adjudged to have fouled Bruno Tonali – a decision that left Moyes furious – and Trippier’s resulting free kick fell to Isak via Alvarez’s clearing header.
The Swede made no mistake, calmly slotting past Areola. He had his second shortly after. Guimaraes, collecting the ball infield, sprayed a sublime 30-yard pass to the right to Trippier, whose volleyed cross was even better, leaving Isak with the simplest of finishes.
It was Newcastle at their free-flowing best. As “Geordie boys, taking the p**s”, rang out from from the away end, West Ham looked rattled, their defence yanked out of shape. Isak, whose performance Howe described as “magnificent”, should have had a hat-trick and taken his tally for the season to eight, level with Manchester City’s Erling Haaland. Put through by Burn, the 24-year-old rounded Areola but saw his shot from an acute angle ricochet off the post. Naturally, it was a turning point.
As was the case when the Toon lost 2-1 to Liverpool in the dying moments at the end of August, Newcastle’s profligacy came back to haunt them. In the last minute of normal time, Kudus, signed from Ajax for £37m in the summer, popped up on the edge of the box to smash the ball past a despairing Pope. That the Ghana forward was able to get his shot away despite a heavy first touch – Tonali failed to get a block in – was clearly a source of irritation for Howe. “I’m really disappointed we didn’t get over the line,” he said. “We’ve made a couple of mistakes and got punished.”
Certainly, if Newcastle are to replicate their success of last season, they will need to improve at seeing out games. Still, it’s a measure of how imperious they have been since losing 3-1 at Brighton before the last international break that a point away at seventh-placed West Ham seems like a missed opportunity. “It’s been a brilliant spell for us,” said Howe, whose side are now unbeaten in seven, having won five of those matches. “When you go back to the Brighton game, there was a response needed. We needed to come back after the break and build our confidence back and get results. We’ve done that and some really.”
For David Moyes, whose side were eviscerated 5-1 in last season’s corresponding fixture, there were plenty of positives, particularly the character they showed right to the end. “I’m actually quite pleased with a point,” he admitted. Come the end of the season, you’d expect, on reflection, Newcastle fans will feel the same.
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