NEWCASTLE: Joe Willock’s first goal since May 2021 ensured Newcastle United kept up their unbeaten Premier League start to 2022 with a battling draw at West Ham United.
A Craig Dawson header had given the home side an unexpected lead, only for Willock to pop up with his first of the season on the stroke of half-time.
The result ends a run of three wins in the top flight for the Magpies but extends their unbeaten run to six games. You have to go back to mid-December and Manchester City for when Newcastle last lost in the Premier League.
Eddie Howe’s side are now in 17th place, four points clear of the bottom three.
The headlines before the match were taken up by a surprise absence in the United starting 11 as Allan Saint-Maximin was left at home with a calf problem.
It was a blow, but it didn’t seem to affect Howe’s side.
It’s rare a team away from home in the Premier League dictates play, dominates field position, possession and chances — but that’s exactly what Newcastle delivered in the opening 45 of this encounter.
Nevertheless, they almost found themselves behind at the break.
Joelinton was the first to go close for the Magpies as he nipped in to dispossess Declan Rice in the area, only to see his low shot blocked by the feet of Lukasz Fabianski.
Ryan Fraser and Willock both tried their luck, but to no avail, while Jarrod Bowen’s deflected cross was tipped on to the bar brilliantly by Martin Dubravka, in what was a very rare foray forward by the Hammers.
In total control, it felt as if the only way this would swing the way of David Moyes’ side was if the Magpies shot themselves in the foot — and just after the half hour they pretty much did just that.
An unnecessary foul on Michail Antonio by Emil Krafth gave away a free-kick that was curled into the area for an unmarked Dawson to nod home with ease. It felt like self-destruction.
However, Newcastle continued to dominate and frustrate the home crowd.
They got their deserved leveller in added time, when a Ryan Fraser cross from the left was bizarrely headed back towards his own goal by Rice and Willock nipped in to squeeze the ball past Fabianski, off the post, and just over the line.
One for the purists, the second half became a bit of a war of attrition in wind-swept and soggy conditions as neither side really looked to have the ideas or intent to open the other up.
Again it was that man Willock who went closest, as he swung a swirling effort wide of the post.
The game was hardly an advert for English football, and if you didn’t have an active interest in either of these sides you’d have stopped watching. However, that matters little to Newcastle, who keep marching on in 2022.
Take away the FA Cup shock against Cambridge United and it’s been a near kick-perfect year so far for Howe & Co. And how they needed it, too.
The 12 points taken in the last six games have more than doubled their season tally for the campaign.
With 22 points on the board, safety feels like a tangible target. It only took 29 points to retain Premier League status in 2020/21 — a similar tally this season might unlock the door to future riches for United.