Steve McClaren admits that he considered dropping all of his players ahead of Newcastle United’s win over Liverpool.
A late strike from Georginio Wijnaldum, following an own goal from Martin Skrtel, saw Jurgen Klopp’s side beaten 2-0 at St James’s Park yesterday.
The result, which lifted the Magpies above Sunderland to 18th place in the Premier League table, came eight days after an embarrassing 5-1 hammering at Crystal Palace.
And the Tynesiders’ head coach – who had been installed as the favourite to be the Premier League’s next managerial casualty after the loss at Selhurst Park – considered axing most of his players in the build-up to the match.
But McClaren made just one change – Siem de Jong started ahead of Ayoze Perez – and he was rewarded by a much-improved performance from his team.
Asked about his team selection, McClaren said: “I’d considered leaving out every one of them.
“We reviewed the last two weeks and we weren’t happy. That was stated, but the response from everybody has been great.”
McClaren – whose side are level on points with 17th-placed Bournemouth – decided on his starting XI on Thursday night.
He resisted calls to drop out-of-form captain Fabricio Coloccini and under-performing midfielder Moussa Sissoko.
“We’ve had a tough week in terms of looking at various things and changing personnel,” said McClaren, whose options were limited by injuries and a lack of squad depth.
“There was kind of a lightbulb moment on Thursday evening.
“We just said ‘look, more or less that team that started before the last two was collecting points and playing well’.
“It was just a case of people working hard and out-running opponents.
“We’d pointed out why we lost the last two games, and we gave everybody an opportunity to put that right, and they’ve done that.”
McClaren’s side confounded expectations. They were everything they weren’t at Selhurst Park.
Newcastle played with intensity and intelligence. They were passionate and purposeful, pressing the visitors impressively.
Whatever luck Newcastle got yesterday, they had earned.
What’s more, Coloccini and Sissoko played well, with the latter having had a hand in both Skrtel’s own goal and Wijnaldum’s late strike.
Coloccini looked like the Coloccini of old.
Admittedly, Liverpool looked jaded, and maybe Klopp will rue his decision to start Daniel Sturridge on the bench.
Liverpool should have taken the lead from a 22nd-minute corner, but Christian Benteke inexplicably put the ball over from three yards out.
Newcastle’s best chance of the half fell to Papiss Cisse, put through by a well-weighted pass forward from Wijnaldum five minutes before the break.
The striker, however, didn’t have the pace to run clear of Liverpool’s last man, and he was eventually crowded out after hesitating in the visiting box.
Chancel Mbema also headed over from a corner before the break, while Wijnaldum put a free-kick over Simon Mignolet’s goal.
Newcastle hassled, harried and hurried their visitors in the second half, but Mignolet hadn’t been tested.
That changed in the 69th minute, not that the Sunderland goalkeeper could do much to stop the own goal.
Sissoko swung in a ball from the right and Wijnaldum skipped into the box. The midfielder shot from an angle, and the ball went in off Skrtel.
Newcastle had to defend deep, and in numbers, in the last 10 minutes.
But they made sure of the points in injury time.
Wijnaldum, set by Sissoko, deftly lifted the ball over the advancing Mignolet to make certain of three hugely-important points for the Magpies.
Asked if the result had kept him in a job, McClaren said: “I don’t think it has anything to do with the job.
“It’s about belief. We really believe in this team and these players.
“They’re young, and at times confidence can be knocked and drained easily. You saw that at the beginning when we were a little nervous.
“But we came through that and got stronger, and the second half was great.
“In terms of me personally, it just saves me from banging my head against the wall and wondering what to do the next week.”
The challenge for McClaren and his players is to replicate the showing against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane this coming Sunday – and the following weekend against basement club Aston Villa at St James’s Park.
“It’s kind of saying ‘that’s us – that’s what we are’,” said McClaren. “We’ve been that before – do it today, and do it next week.
McClaren, however, is cautious given the “false starts” which he has already seen this season.
He added: “This team has got talent and ability – we also saw belief and confidence, and I think that grew as the game went on.
“They showed that they’re good players, but they crawled off there because they’re exhausted and that was important.
Newcastle: Elliot, Janmaat, Coloccini, Mbemba, Dummett, Sissoko, Colback (Gouffran 77), Anita, Wijnaldum, De Jong (Perez 68), Cisse (Thauvin 82). Subs not used: Darlow, Sterry, Mbabu, Mitrovic. Booked: Colback, Anita, Cisse. Goals: Skrtel own goal 69, Wijnaldum 90.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno, Lucas, Allen, Ibe (Origi 75), Firmino (Sturridge 62), Milner, Benteke (Lallana 62). Subs not used: Toure, Henderson, Bogdan, Randall. Booked: Lucas.
Att: 51,273. Ref: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)