THIS was Newcastle United’s season in microcosm. A 113-minute rollercoaster ride of chaos, controversy, injury, desperate defending, exhilarating attacking and enough gut-wrenching drama to last a year, never mind a game.

At 3-1 down shortly after half-time, with players dropping like flies and West Ham having broken from one end of the pitch to the other to shred the Magpies’ makeshift defence, a season that has see-sawed violently since August looked to effectively be over. Fast forward half-an-hour or so, though, and not only had Eddie Howe and his players turned the game around, they had transformed the entire outlook for the remaining nine matches. Despite all the setbacks of the last few months, European qualification remains well within their sights.

Where to start with Saturday’s bedlam? Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Injuries, obviously, with Jamaal Lascelles, Tino Livramento and Miguel Almiron all hobbling out of the action at various stages, and Martin Dubravka and Emil Krafth not looking too clever either as they clutched assorted parts of their bodies. With Anthony Gordon suspended after his stoppage-time dismissal for kicking the ball away, Howe’s creativity is going to be tested as he attempts to assemble a team to face Everton on Tuesday.


For all the euphoria that accompanied the final stages of Saturday’s game, it would be wrong to ignore the state of some of Newcastle’s defending too. For the seventh time in their last 15 matches, the Magpies conceded at least three goals. There are mitigating factors behind that statistic, with Howe admitting the early departure of Lascelles at the weekend necessitated a defensive reshuffle that directly contributed to West Ham’s opening goal, but the harsh reality is that Newcastle’s defensive frailties have been alarmingly apparent for much of this season. The contrast to last term, when the backline was all-but-impenetrable for long periods, remains stark.

Nevertheless, to focus too long on the worrying aspects of Saturday’s display would be churlish. Better, instead, to bathe in the warm glow created by the kind of barnstorming attacking comeback that has been Newcastle’s hallmark for much of the Premier League era. Eddie Howe might claim his side do not want to assume the ‘Entertainers’ tag that was pinned on Kevin Keegan’s team in the 1990s, but their results this term mean it is becoming an increasingly valid fit. 5-1 against Villa, 4-0 against Palace, 4-1 against Chelsea, 4-4 with Luton, 4-3 against West Ham. If you want to see goals, head to St James’ Park.

Harvey Barnes was the matchwinner at the weekend, coming off the bench to slot a clinical equaliser through the legs of Lukasz Fabianski before drilling home a sensational winner in the 90th minute. The winger has suffered an injury-interrupted first season on Tyneside, but no matter what else he goes on to achieve in a black-and-white shirt, he will not enjoy many better moments than this.

Howe’s second-half substitutions were crucial, with Lewis Hall and Elliot Anderson both making a major impact as they got Newcastle back onto the front foot after Alexander Isak’s second penalty of the afternoon offered a route back into the game. Hall’s lack of involvement throughout this season has been bizarre, but that will surely begin to change in the next two months. Anderson is another player to have suffered from long-term injury issues this term – his midfield dynamism has been badly missed.

Isak deserves huge credit for the effective way in which he led the line – as well as dispatching his two penalties, he also set up Barnes’ first goal with an excellent through ball – and Gordon was superb prior to his late dismissal, winning both penalties before shielding the ball superbly to engineer Barnes’ winner.

The spirit and endeavour Newcastle displayed in the closing stages was a throwback to the positive approach that enabled them to finish in the top four last season, and that has been absent on too many occasions this term. Instead of admitting defeat when the cards looked to have fallen against them, the Magpies rallied remarkably. Build on that in the final nine matches, and a difficult campaign could yet have a glorious finale.