New boy Joe Willock is backing Newcastle’s battling spirit to ease them away from Premier League trouble after ending his debut for the club with a remarkable victory.
The 21-year-old midfielder, who joined the Magpies on loan from Arsenal on deadline day, seemed destined to enjoy a very pleasant first afternoon in a black and white shirt when he opened the scoring with just 16 minutes gone and saw his side go in at the break with a 3-1 lead.
Forty-five minutes later he had played his part in a gritty rearguard action, helping Steve Bruce’s men to grind out a priceless 3-2 win having had to play with 10 men from the 49th minute and for the last 15 with just nine.
Asked about the team spirit which saw Newcastle through, Willock told NUFC TV: “To be honest with you, I haven’t had that in a long time, being here with the boys, and it’s just going to bring us closer and the next game, we’re just going to fight for each other even more.
“We want to keep on pushing on from this and another three points next week.
“We were all fighting together – that’s the mentality of the team. From the first day I got here, I could see it was a very close-knit group and they wanted to fight for each other, and I’m happy it showed today.”
Newcastle’s afternoon got off to the perfect start when Allan Saint-Maximin, starting his first game since being struck down by Covid-19 in November and instantly reminding onlookers of what they had been missing, surged past defender Jan Bednarek and served the ball up on a plate for Willock to open the scoring.
It was 2-0 within 10 minutes when Miguel Almiron’s shot deflected in off the unfortunate Bednarek. Takumi Minamino reduced the deficit with a fine debut strike of his own on the half-hour but Almiron restored the home side’s two-goal advantage with his second goal on the stroke of half-time after cashing in on a mix-up between keeper Alex McCarthy and full-back Ryan Bertrand.
However, James’ Ward-Prowse’s superb free-kick dragged the visitors back into it once again and Jeff Hendrick’s second yellow card put the Magpies at a numerical disadvantage – which increased when defender Fabian Schar was carried off on a stretcher with Bruce having already used his three substitutions.
Schar said on Twitter on Sunday that he “would be out for a few months” with a knee problem and it was “going to be a hard time”. The Swiss added he would “try everything to be back on the pitch as soon as possible” with a goal of being ready for Euro 2020.
What followed was a study in resilience as the nine men somehow ground their way to the final whistle – they needed the help of an upright to keep out a Danny Ings shot – with their lead intact.
For Southampton, who arrived on Tyneside desperate to bounce back from their 9-0 midweek humiliation at Manchester United during which they too had been reduced to nine, it proved another sobering experience.
Midfielder Nathan Redmond told the club’s official website: “I feel like we did some good things today and obviously we did some bad things, and we need to assess both of those going into the next game.
“Looking at it fresh straight after the game, as players and myself we’re really disappointed to not come away with something, but we’ve got a strong group that’s been together throughout a lot of ups and downs at this club so we’re all sticking together ready for the fight.”