Afforded restricted access to Newcastle United’s facilities following a positive COVID-19 test, Eddie Howe may not have had time to decorate his new office.
One quote, from the legendary US college basketball coach John Wooden, which he may recreate from the walls during his time as Bournemouth manager read: “Make each day your masterpiece.”
Newcastle’s 3-3 thriller against Brentford will certainly be upheld as glorious viewing for the neutral, but underlined the defensive frailties that Howe’s new side will take some work to shake off.
Howe’s appointment a week into November finally provided some certainty to a takeover bid that has lurched from talk of future titles to tackling the current relegation they are well and truly in the midst of. Upon his presentation Howe described the ‘front-foot’ football he planned on transposing from the south coast to the north east.
Within ten minutes his new captain Jamaal Lascelles capped off a confident start by heading in the game’s opening goal. Commandingly meeting a corner that was invitingly swung in by Matt Ritchie, a player who admitted he ‘loved every minute’ playing under Howe at Bournemouth.
Yet, the watching Toon Army were only able to bask in the afterglow of their fresh era for 67 seconds. Ivan Toney netted the 50th goal Newcastle have conceded at the hands of a former player in the Premier League era, capitalising upon a glut of space inside the penalty area after a flurry of half-hearted tackles from those decked in black and white.
While shirking questions surrounding the human rights policy of the club’s new owners, Howe found time to wistfully remember the infamously thrilling (and chaotic) Newcastle teams of the 1990s. “I’d love to emulate some of their incredible attacking football,” Howe said of Kevin Keegan’s former side. “That was a beautiful team to watch; I’d love to give the crowd some similarly special memories.”
In a frantic, frenzied affair, Newcastle may have veered too closely to the helter-skelter nature of games which stick in the memory from that era. When Newcastle duked out those seven goal ding-dongs with Liverpool, it was Keegan slumped over the advertising hoardings in devastation, not jubilation.
Rico Henry was granted acres of room on the left hand side of Newcastle’s box to haul Brentford into the lead shortly after the half-hour mark. Howe stuck with the three-man system Newcastle have leaned on this term, but familiarity evidently failed to breed fluency as Jacob Murphy disbelieving turned around to find Brentford’s wingback in criminal isolation.
Joelinton fired the hosts level before the interval but Newcastle’s timidity in the tackle was on full display for Brentford’s third goal after an hour. Jonjo Shelvey and Murphy couldn’t combine to wrestle the ball off Henry on the edge of the box, as he squeaked through the half-challenges to tee Frank Onyeka up for an effort that span off Lascelles and past Darlow.
The three goals Newcastle conceded on Saturday ensure they have the worst defensive record in the division this season, shipping a whopping 27 goals after 12 games as even Norwich City climb above them in the table.
Bournemouth’s porous rearguard in the Premier League under Howe has come under much scrutiny following his appointment. Yet, if the 43-year-old can reduce the torrent of goals conceded to the 1.7 he averaged over five top flight seasons with the Cherries, it would be a marked improvement on the 2.3 strikes Newcastle are currently shipping.
Allan Saint-Maximin snuck behind Mads Roerslev to volley the Magpies back level, adding another loop to the rollercoaster of a contest that spared Howe a debut defeat.
In light of the breathless 90 minutes which kept Howe’s side winless and moved them bottom of the table, he may be best served adhering to another Wooden quote: “All of life is peaks and valleys. Don’t let the peaks get too high and the valleys too low.”