Newcastle United are on the up under Steve Bruce
This has been a hard, hard season. But for 70-odd minutes, Newcastle United made it look easy.
They deservedly beat Leicester City 4-2 last night thanks to two goals from Callum Wilson and strikes from Joe Willock and Paul Dummett.
Steve Bruce’s side aren’t mathematically safe yet – that could come on Monday night if Fulham fail to beat Burnley – but they’re not going down now.
The club is no longer threatened by relegation, and the team, demoralised and dejected after that shocking 3-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion in March, is on the up in the final weeks of a draining campaign.
The club is up to 13th place – it’s highest position since mid-December – and it could yet better last season's 44-point tally.
One worry is Willock, who some fans fear is playing his way out of a move to Newcastle. The midfielder – who has netted in last four games – has scored more goals than any Arsenal player since his February 1 move to Newcastle.
Supporters can only hope that Mikel Arteta can’t see what they see in the 21-year-old, who got United up and running at the King Power Stadium with a goal created by himself.
The stadium had been the scene of one of Bruce’s worst moments as United head coach. Bruce’s side was convincingly beaten 5-0 early last season, and the embarrassing performance prompted a return to a back five.
Bruce went back to basics again after the Brighton loss – and switched to a back five. The change paid dividends – United claimed eight points from four games in April, and Bruce picked up a Manager of the Month nomination – and Newcastle arrived at the King Power Stadium with Premier League safety in sight.
Bruce’s tenure has been punctuated by what have been described as “hand grenade” performances.
This performance was explosive, but in the right way. Brendan Rodgers’ side were put on the back foot in the early stages. Newcastle pressed all over the pitch, and probed away.
Federico Fernandez, unmarked, headed wide from a Jonjo Shelvey free-kick. A better chance was yet to come. Wilson broke up the right and crossed for an unmarked Allan Saint-Maximin, whose shot was somehow stopped by the foot of Kasper Schmeichel.
Newcastle’s breakthrough wasn’t long in coming, however. Willock, restored to the starting XI, seized on an awful touch from Caglar Soyuncu and burst into the box to score past Schmeichel.
Martin Dubravka kept United’s lead intact by denying Wesley Forfana at the other end of the pitch.
It got better for Newcastle in the 36th minute when Dummett headed a Matt Ritchie corner home at the back post to end a five-year goal drought.
Dubravka denied Jamie Vardy before the break, and Leicester attempted to get on the front foot after the restart. United had other ideas, and Wilson ended hopes of a comeback with a goal, his 11th of the season, from a quick break forward after Ritchie won the ball at the back.
Wilson scored his second at the second attempt after being played in by a brilliant ball from Miguel Almiron.
Marc Albrighton and Kelechi Iheanacho pulled goals back in a frantic finale, but United held on.