Ciaran Clark caps resurgent Newcastle’s fightback against Bournemouth

Louise Taylor at St James’ Park on 9 November 2019

The first hard frost of winter resulted in north-easterners scraping ice off car windscreens and negotiating slippery pavements. By the time darkness fell the temperature remained stubbornly close to freezing but two more goals from Steve Bruce’s defenders had warmed Newcastle fans, lifting their team to 11th.

“I’m delighted with the spirit and attitude,” said a beaming Bruce, who seems to have weathered the toughest of inductions to Rafael Benítez’s old job. “We deserved to win.”

A fabulously entertaining game was punctuated by uplifting cameos from wingers, most notably Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin, although Harry Wilson did his bit too. Wilson has impressed enormously since joining Bournemouth on a season-long loan from Liverpool and the 22-year-old registered his fourth goal in 11 appearances.

It came from a corner, swiftly taken by Ryan Fraser who exchanged perfectly weighted passes with Joshua King before playing in Wilson, who had cleverly manoeuvred himself into space. Completely unmarked, he curled a low, left-foot shot from 12 yards beyond Martin Dubravka as Eddie Howe and his staff celebrated a successful set-piece routine, evidently choreographed on a Hampshire training ground.

The bad news for Bruce was that, not content with being the Premier League’s dead-ball specialists, Bournemouth looked pretty dangerous from open play too. Callum Wilson’s powers of acceleration repeatedly caught Newcastle’s defence cold, while the dangerous Fraser’s fabulous dipping shot skimmed Dubravka’s bar.

Newcastle were wobbling but, holding his nerve, their manager urged his wing-backs to press higher up the pitch and, almost imperceptibly, Adam Smith became increasingly fazed by Jetro Willems’ left-sided incursions.

Howe started to look wary of the hosts’ often devastating change of counterattacking pace and after Steve Cook misread Joelinton’s flick, Saint-Maximin pounced to lash a shot against the bar.

Undeterred, the Frenchman promptly proceeded to, albeit inadvertently, create DeAndre Yedlin’s equaliser when his deflected shot was headed home by the rapidly onrushing right wing-back. Bournemouth argued Yedlin was offside but a VAR review disagreed and the first goal Howe’s team had conceded in four Premier League games stood.

Harry Wilson celebrates his opener.
Harry Wilson celebrates his opener. Photograph: Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images

Once again Bruce’s backline were showing up Joelinton and friends in the hard-working yet strangely shot-shy striking department. Indeed when, early in the second half, Ciaran Clark’s scuffed shot eluded Aaron Ramsdale’s reach it was the seventh League goal in nine games scored by a member of Newcastle’s defence.

Moreover Clark’s winner was created by two rearguard colleagues, with Federico Fernández heading Willems’ ball into his path. Fernández has only recently been recalled to the first XI but not for the first time the Argentinian centre-half excelled, repeatedly thwarting Bournemouth with intelligent interceptions.

“It’s disappointing,” said Howe who cursed as King headed Fraser’s stoppage-time corner inches wide. “We’re hugely frustrated.”

His gameplan had been spoilt by Saint-Maximin’s idiosyncratic ability to both bewitch and bewilder. The much-adored former Nice winger almost scored his side’s third after haring on to Jonjo Shelvey’s through-ball but then accidentally prevented Miguel Almirón registering a first Newcastle goal from the fallout when Almirón’s shot deflected comedically off his leg as he lay prone on the ground. “Allan gets you on the edge of your seat,” said Bruce. “You can’t coach some of the stuff he does.”

Having begun confounding those who suspected he was incapable of filling Benítez’s shoes, it was small wonder he wore the contented expression of a man feeling the sun on his back for the first time after a long, hard winter.

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