NEWCASTLE: It was far from pretty, but sometimes substance over style is all that matters.
Newcastle United ensured their name is in the hat for the Carabao Cup quarter final draw thanks to a one-goal victory at a bitterly cold St James’ Park. An Adam Smith own goal was all it took to separate the sides on Tyneside, as Newcastle returned from the break with a victory, one that takes them one step closer to an elusive trophy.
For those not versed in Newcastle’s modern-day history, it’s 55 years since they won a major honour, and you have to go back 69 years for any domestic piece of silverware.
Eddie Howe named as strong an XI as was available to him at St James’ Park, showing mind games are definitely one of his strong suits. The head coach had dropped hints in his press conference leading up to the game that issues may keep some of his key men, including Callum Wilson, out of the encounter.
In a cagey opening it was the home side, as you’d expect, who edged things — Fabian Schar, fresh from Qatar duty with Switzerland — flashed inches wide with keeper Mark Travers helpless.
United had the ball in the net soon after as Joe Willock found Callum Wilson, who tucked home against his former charges, but the linesman’s flag ruled it out. It was former Arsenal man Willock who was actually flagged. It was a contentious call to say the least.
After a dominant first half, the Magpies should really have been in front when Dan Burn crossed to the back post and with his right he skewed back across goal despite the net being at his mercy.
Post-break home levels dropped, somewhat. And it was the visitors who looked the more likely to break the deadlock. Big Welshman Kieffer Moore nodded just wide, rising highest to beat Schar to the ball.
However, some sustained Magpies pressure eventually paid off as a trademark Trippier cross from the right only just evaded Wilson in the middle, but was turned past Travers by Smith at the back post.
On the balance of play, despite an off start to the second 45, it was a well-deserved opener.
Bournemouth, fresh from a potentially transformative takeover of their own, kept United honest in this one, though, and substitute Jack Stacey saw a low drive well saved by Nick Pope, who, up to that point, had been rarely called into action.
Late on it was the England No. 2 who had to be at his very best to keep United ahead when his sprawling long right leg outstretched to deny Dominic Solanke a late, undeserved leveller.
“It was a tough game,” said Howe post-match.
“And it was exactly what we anticipated. They were organised and defensively very good — everything they were in the league game here. It was up to us to try to break them down and I don’t think we did it well enough at times.
“We weren’t at our fluent best but there are reasons for that; players coming back at different times, having a small group, players at different stages of fitness. I thought they did very well — especially internationals — to get through the amount of time they did.
“We just want to try to win every game. I think the players have shown that attitude and delivered it really well this season. Into the quarter finals, which is a great thing for us, and we want to keep going.”
As Howe says, Newcastle were far from their fluent best, and will have to make sure better days are ahead if they are to continue their charge at the top end of the Premier League. But, when you don’t play well, the important thing to do is win at all costs — and that’s what they did.
So far, it’s been a near unblemished card for Howe at United in 2022, particularly on home turf. And the head coach will hope that carries on into 2023, with a very winnable trip to Leicester City on the horizon on Dec. 26 and Leeds United in Newcastle on the final day of the year left ahead of them.