LONDON: Football, at its best, is able to tell a fairy tale like no other game on the planet. The story of Eddie Howe, Jason Tindall and Newcastle United is near Oscar-worthy.
As the sun beat down from the crystal-clear London skies, to light up the Stamford Bridge dugouts, Eddie Howe, flanked by partner-in-crime Jason Tindall, appeared like shadowed, dream-like, movie stars, who had just played a major role in this season’s Premier League contender for performance of the year.
Their story includes clearing out dressing rooms and helping clean kits at Bournemouth, as the club sat in 92nd place out of 92 teams in the English Football League, and days of going out of business — to strolling to the mega-bucks big leagues of Europe’s premier club competition. All in decade and a half’s work for Howe & Co. It has been some journey. Maybe, one day someone will make a film about their progress. I suppose, in many ways, Amazon already are. And what a watch it will be, with almost unrivalled success, the like of which has not been seen on Tyneside since the days of Sir Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan.
This Newcastle team, and Howe with Tindall, deserve to be talked about in that company. They have earned that right. And in truth, it still feels like they are only just getting started.
This one will not go down in the annals of history, it was very much an end-of-season affair in West London, but that mattered little. Nothing was on the line, the hard work already done. It is not often things have meant too little, of late.
With that in mind, and injuries biting, Howe made four changes to the lineup with Martin Dubravka and Anthony Gordon the key inclusions. One won man of the match, the other scored Newcastle’s only goal in the 1-1 draw. Very little Howe touches these days does not turn to gold. Long may it continue for Mr. Midas.
Alexander Isak, a signing-of-the-year contender, rattled the limbs of Kepa in the Blues’ goal before Gordon rippled it with as easy a finish as he is ever likely to get.
Allan Saint-Maximin, who hugged the left-hand side touchline, was set free by the impressive Fabian Schar, the combining with Elliot Anderson, who squared for ex-Everton man Gordon to tuck in his first Newcastle goal. It was also young Geordie Anderson’s first ever senior Newcastle assist.
That was really as good as it got for United, who could, and should have doubled and trebled their goals registered on the day but for the bizarrely profligate Miguel Almiron.
Chelsea did not need much of an invite to get in on the act, although their strike felt like a gift. With Saint-Maximin lacking in defensive work Chelsea had the run of their right and as Matt Targett was turned inside and out by Raheem Sterling, the England man found his international teammate Kieran Trippier, who turned into his own net when tracking back.
After the break it was all Chelsea, with Dubravka having to withstand a Blues’ siege. Sterling went close before substitutes Joao Felix and Christian Pulisic wasted two gilt-edged opportunities to nick it late on.
It was too little, too late for Chelsea, whose damage was long done before the final day. For their opponents, it feels like the foundations are already being put in place for a changing of the guard at the very top of English football.
Three thousand-odd Geordies went through their full range of musical hits at the death, including a new tune for Howe and Tindall, and partied long after the home fans left the building.
Howe even attempted to emulate newly formed rival Jurgen Klopp with a fist pump toward the Geordie faithful. The roar he got back would rival any in world football. Those fans know pain — and they also know real talent when they see it. In Howe, United have a manager the envy of the English footballing world. Europe will know that, too, soon enough.