On Wednesday night, the Champions League anthem will flood the senses here, Kylian Mbappé may or may not be fit to lead Paris Saint-Germain’s attack and Eddie Howe can, once again, confound the doubters.
Newcastle’s manager has exceeded so many expectations in such a tight time frame on Tyneside that it is easy to forget it is almost exactly 11 years since he resigned as Burnley’s manager after a brief spell in east Lancashire.
Although his return to Bournemouth was prompted by the death of his mother, there was a widespread, if erroneous assumption, that Howe could not cope outside his south-coast comfort zone.
Back then few could have envisaged him thriving at St James’ Park, let alone preparing Newcastle for their first home Champions League game in 20 years.
A team now boasting a record of five straight clean sheets did so with ruthless efficiency in the face of an enterprising, attractive Burnley, whose appealing brand of football is most definitely not reflected by the Premier League table.
“It was a tough game,” said Howe after watching Miguel Almirón’s 20-yarder and Alexander Isak’s penalty secure three points. “Burnley are a really interesting team. Vincent [Kompany] has done a great job. They play a very dangerous style and if you aren’t perfect with your press they can hurt you. But we deserved to win.”
Eleven years ago, Kompany was the cornerstone of Manchester City’s defence and it would certainly have been intriguing to see him mark Mbappé. Right now though the manager who led Burnley to last season’s Championship title in such style has quite enough on his plate.
After seeing his side collect one point from their opening six games, Kompany is urging his players to keep the faith with the same sort of composure he once used to marshal City’s rearguard.
“At the moment it’s not happening but it’s important to retain the belief,” he said. “Newcastle are a top side but we stayed in the game for long periods and we had our moments. That’s important. No one said it would be easy. It’s supposed to be tough.”
On this evidence, Burnley possess sufficient talent and, judging by the way they won their fair share of second balls, character to weather the storm. In the first half, Luca Koleosho, their gifted Italy Under-21s winger, repeatedly sashayed down the right, discomfiting Dan Burn along the way.
When Burn stumbled in the face of his impressive change of pace, Koleosho advanced and squared for Zeki Amdouni to shoot low. Nick Pope, a former Burnley goalkeeper, did well to keep that one out but while the visitors’ habit of playing out from the back was aesthetically pleasing it also seemed, at times, a high-risk strategy and Newcastle sensed opportunity.
When Kieran Trippier, another Turf Moor old boy, dispossessed Aaron Ramsey courtesy of a powerful challenge the ball soon found itself at Almirón’s feet. The Paraguayan hesitated, momentarily, apparently uncertain whether or not to shoot. Then Almirón made the correct decision and watched his ensuing, left-foot, curving shot fly beyond the helpless James Trafford and on into the top corner.
“Miggy’s a unique, high energy, all action, footballer,” said Howe. “I don’t think there’s anyone quite like him.”
After that, Bruno Guimarães’s reassuring return to top form at the heart of a midfield, where Sean Longstaff also excelled, ensured Pope remained pretty much untested until midway through the second half when Newcastle were disrupted by Joelinton’s hamstring injury. The Brazilian lasted three minutes after replacing Elliot Anderson before limping off as Sandro Tonali ran on.
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One of Kompany’s substitutes, Wilson Odobert very nearly capitalised on this temporary confusion as he burst into the area, unhinging a defence lacking the injured Sven Botman and forcing a couple of slightly panicky clearances.
It served as a reminder that Newcastle needed a second goal. It arrived when Isak beat Trafford from the penalty spot after Ameen al‑Dakhil felled Gordon. Struck low and unerringly into the bottom right corner, Isak’s kick was unstoppable.
“We’re in a good moment,” said Howe. “We can approach the Champions League with confidence.”