Newcastle United 1 Norwich City 1
It might have been very different had Ciaran Clark not self-destructed in the ninth minute but that will be of no consolation to Eddie Howe.
Clark’s idiotic sending off left Newcastle down to 10 men and in the sort of trouble that even Callum Wilson’s second-half penalty could not quite camouflage. Despite a rather wonderful display of defiance from the home side, Teemu Pukki’s stupendous volley means Howe’s side remain bottom of the Premier League, still awaiting their first win of the season. The Championship surely beckons.
In the circumstances, a point spelt disappointment for Norwich but Dean Smith’s side clamber up to the dizzy heights of 18th and, providing Pukki stays fit, at least harbour a degree of hope.
After spending his first home game as manager here isolating in a hotel room overlooking the Tyne after testing positive for Covid-19, Howe was finally able to walk out of the St James’ Park tunnel and feel the noise generated by one of England’s most atmospheric audiences.
When his gaze turned to the Gallowgate End it was met by a specially made banner emblazoned with the message: “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece”. It is one of Howe’s favourite sayings – not to mention something extremely familiar to anyone who has played with him and he looked suitably delighted.
After Steve Bruce’s successor saluted all four corners of the ground, the match kicked off and reality intruded. Two evidently edgy sides proved precisely why they are currently the worst in the league by conceding far too much possession for the liking of either Howe or Smith, himself still relatively new to Norwich.
Unfortunately for Howe, Clark was not afflicted by mere nerves but sheer panic. It can be the only explanation for the Republic of Ireland international centre half losing his mind after scuffing a miscued clearance straight at Pukki and then hauling the striker down as he accelerated towards goal.
Although the waters seemed muddied by Pukki's accidental handball, as a denial of a clear scoring opportunity, it was a glaringly obvious red card and Newcastle's quietly seething manager did not look at Clark as he trudged off in disgrace. Conjuring a masterpiece when reduced to 10 men represents an unenviable challenge but Howe endeavoured to rise to it by withdrawing Ryan Fraser and introducing Federico Fernández.
The Argentinian defender – arguably Newcastle’s best centre half – has been mysteriously sidelined in recent weeks but impressed here; if only his new manager had started Fernandez rather than Clark.
As the home side shifted into a creditably attacking, assiduously pressing, fairly direct, 4-3-2 shape, involving the ever menacing Allan Saint-Maximin joining Wilson in attack and Joelinton looking more dangerous than before after dropping back into a right midfield role, Smith presided over a significant mini-reshuffle of his own.
Lukas Rupp had begun by sitting deep in midfield, screening his defence with Billy Gilmour deployed in a more attacking role but Norwich's manager swapped them over. The idea was presumably that the quality and incision of Gilmour's passing from deep would hurt Newcastle.
Yet although the Chelsea loanee tended to be at the heart of Norwich’s better manoeuvres, the crowd were serving as an effective tailwind, propelling Howe’s team forward on the counterattack. It dictated that the threat presented by Saint-Maximin ensured the visitors constantly looked over their shoulders and could never really settle into a convincing passing groove.
If Tim Krul, warmly received on this return to a former habitat, had precious little to do in the away goal, his team-mates' enduring resilience ensured Newcastle's Martin Dubravka was hardly overworked.
As the second half ticked by and the rain sheeted down Rupp tripped Joelinton in the area but, by way of exacerbating Howe’s misery, a VAR review declined to award a penalty.
No matter; a subsequent Newcastle corner saw Fernández’s goalbound header diverted by Gilmour’s arm and, after a lengthy VAR check, a penalty was awarded.
Wilson stepped forward to face a goalkeeper who, with some justification, prides himself on his ability to save spot-kicks but although Krul dived the right way and, with a powerful hand, managed to push the ball on to the underside of the bar, it dropped into the net. As Howe's assistant, Jason Tindall, celebrated wildly, Newcastle's manager remained impassive, appearing almost in shock.
Perhaps he simply had a premonition of what would come next: the moment when Pukki would silence St James' with a stunning volley after Dubravka's weak punch sent Gilmour's cross into the path of Dimitris Giannoulis who would cue the Finn up for that stellar finish.
It could have been even worse for Howe had Dubravka not saved impressively with an outstretched leg after Fabian Schär’s concentration lapse permitted Pierre Lees-Melou to seize possession and shoot goalwards with the unmarked Pukki screaming for the ball. Maybe, just maybe, the Newcastle manager’s luck will turn when Burnley visit on Saturday. – Guardian