NEWCASTLE: This was about more than a win, more than three points, more than just getting back on track in the Premier League.
The victory over Brentford was about everything that last season represented — the glory, the joy, the success. This was about hard yards, consolidation, proving a point — and doubters wrong. This was about releasing the pressure valve and enjoying something so long in the making, something two starved decades had eaten up.
Newcastle United return to the Champions League for the first time since the summer of 2004 on Tuesday night. Italian giants AC Milan the opponents, the iconic San Siro the stage.
However, on Saturday morning, the mood on Tyneside was not triumphal. Instead, 24 hours before, Eddie Howe had been fielding questions on the club’s mini “crisis” and discussing how he had no time for critics of himself, or his side, at the club’s training base.
This really was not how it was supposed to be. A club so starved of even relative success should be on cloud nine at even the prospect of a return to the continent, never mind a shot at glory in the world’s premier club competition. Yet having lost three games in a row, and finding themselves in the lower reaches of the Premier League, the air cut a somber environment ahead of the visit of the then-unbeaten Bees.
A win was all that mattered on Saturday evening, and luckily for Howe, Newcastle and all associated with it, Callum Wilson, top scorer in the last three seasons, delivered.
“Pressure?” Wilson quipped, after the match. “Pressure is for tires.”
His solitary strike, a well-struck penalty at the famous Gallowgate End, was enough to lift the gloom which had gone before and turn eyes very firmly to Tuesday’s date with destiny.
“It was a game of two different philosophies,” Wilson continued. “They (Brentford) play quite direct, we like to play football. Sometimes things don’t match, they don’t align. It was going to take something unusual to break the deadlock. We had to find a way to win and we did.
“We had to put an end to the run we’d been on. And now we can focus on the one that everyone else is excited about — the Champions League.
“But to remain a Champions League club, you have to win in the Premier League. That is our foundation upon which we build. We had to win to climb back up the league. After a few defeats you start to slip. It is only early, but you don’t want to be cut adrift from those places.”
Now Howe and his team must navigate the first step in what many are calling this year’s “group of death,” also featuring Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund.
“Big result for us. Difficult game today, knew it was going be. Brentford are a difficult team to play against. It wasn’t a game of many chances didn’t think, thankfully we got the important goal we needed,” said Howe.
“I don’t think we were in full rhythm today but that’s what Brentford do, they disrupt you. It was a bitty game for us, we had to set-pieces right, crosses right and defensively I was very pleased with us today.”
While Newcastle got back to winning ways, there was a shock in Serie A, as last season’s beaten Champions League finalists Inter Milan beat their city rivals — the seven-time kings of Europe — AC Milan 5-1.
Reacting to that, Howe said: “I’ve just heard, I don’t know whether that’s a good thing for us or not. I need to watch that game and analyze it and we’ll try to give a good performance.”