NEWCASTLE: With one 40-yard sprint, Anthony Gordon epitomised everything it means to represent Newcastle United — and inspired his side, with the help of others, to cup glory.
The scene was St James’ Park in the Carabao Cup third round, the visitors treble-winning Manchester City. Both sides were weakened with 10 and eight changes apiece from the Premier League this weekend, but tensions were still high.
The atmosphere was electric, but dampened early on by City’s dominance. Toiling against their illustrious opponents, Eddie Howe’s men found a hero who riled up the crowd with effort and commitment.
On 49 minutes, as Manuel Akanji dropped the shoulder and swaggered away from a wrong-footed Gordon, there looked to be no danger for City. However, the rakish winger refused to give up the cause, chased Akanji’s ball across the pitch to Matteo Kovacic, and as the Croatian twisted to protect possession, the blonde-haired Scouser committed, slid in and threw ball and man high up into the Tyneside night.
The roar that greeted the challenge set the tone for the rest of the evening. For all City out-passed the Magpies, Gordon and his comrades showed they would not be out-fought on home turf.
Soon after, Swedish forward Alexander Isak turned in what proved to be the winner, sending United through and dumping out the winners of the competition in four of the last five campaigns.
Gordon did not have a direct hand in the goal, but it had his fingerprints all over it.
“I think he’s had an outstanding start to the season,” said Howe, whose side were rewarded for their City win with a trip to Manchester United in round four.
“What’s pleased me most is his fitness levels, his athleticism is really coming to the fore but he’s adding goals and end product. All attacking players will be judged by that. I always say when we sign players there needs to be patience.
“Players, as much as you want them to come in and be outstanding from minute one, that’s very rare. Sometimes there is a bedding in period, some players take longer than others,” Howe said.
“We had no doubt over Anthony’s quality but I think pre-season did him really good, but as did the six months he had with us before the break for the summer because he had a taste of what to expect and came back with a much greater understanding.”
It is fair to say Gordon had, up until the summer, been questioned. Many fans, pundits and journalists had wondered whether the former Everton man was the right fit for Howe’s Champions League qualifiers.
In eight performances across three competitions, Gordon has gone from a low-key squad player to first name on the team sheet.
The youngster with pace and talent has grown into a man with consistent quality in his locker. Four goal involvements this term — two goals and two assists — already prove his significant growth. But is there room for improvement? Howe thinks so.
“That’s the plan. For Anthony, he’s got such a high ability and so much potential where we really feel he can push on. There is so much more to work on and improve but the qualities are there for him to be an outstanding player at this level,” the head coach said.
Newcastle will hope to maintain their upturn in fortune Saturday, when the Magpies host Vincent Kompany’s Burnley, before the clash the Gulf region is waiting for in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain next week.