A sense of optimism seems to be in play at St. James’ Park as Steve McClaren leads the club into a new era.
The encouraging 2-2 draw with last season’s surprise package Southampton gave plenty of reasons for the Toon army to cheer for the first time in what seems like years.
The new boys in Toon sent tongues wagging on Tyneside. Though the display was not perfect, the Magpies are still a work in progress under the former England boss, and the performances of both Chancel Mbemba and Dutch star Giorgino Wijnaldum were certainly encouraging.
Already forming himself a cult following, former Anderlecht defender Mbemba arrived at St. James’ on Sunday afternoon dressed in a tuxedo and a bow tie. The Congo international dressed to impress, and also looked the part on the pitch.
Newcastle’s defence has often looked like a slapstick comedy sketch. From the years of Jean-Alain Boumsong and Titus Bramble, to the utter shambles of Mike Williamson and Steven Taylor last time out – the Geordies have never really been known to have a rock solid back line. Mbemba performed well paired alongside captain Fabricio Coloccini.
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The £8.5m arrival earned a lively applause from the home crowd after a thunderous tackle on England winger Jay Rodriguez, and continued to showcase his ability throughout the afternoon. Some well-timed interceptions and blocks were blended with a pace and power the North East giants have been so desperate for.
Both of Southampton’s goals showed that the home side are still a work in progress, two relatively straightforward headed goals prevented McClaren from taking all 3 points on his maiden voyage with the Toon. However, the performance of the Congolese will get Toon fans purring.
Further up the field, £14m man Wijnaldum took the home crowd by storm. An energetic, dynamic first 45 in England had fans on the edge of their seats as they marvelled at their new Number 5.
Shortly after the break, a gut busting run from inside his own half was expertly headed past compatriot Maarten Stekelenburg in the Saints goal. All afternoon, the Dutch international was either battling for possession, or intelligently linking play further up the field.
The ex-PSV captain is the second most expensive player in the club’s history, and a sense that he could finally replace Yohan Cabaye as a midfield lynchpin is hard to ignore. He linked well with Moussa Sissoko, and probably should have scored when the Frenchman set him up in the first half.
Still, though, the Dutch international enjoyed pretty much the perfect debut. Substituted after 81 minutes, Newcastle fans will be eager to see what he can do when he’s in full swing.
New striker, and cult-icon-in-waiting, Alexsandar Mitrovic arrived off the bench to a standing ovation with 16 minutes to go and Southampton in the driving seat. The Serb was fortunate not to be sent off for a crunching tackle on Matt Targett, but the Toon Army are just waiting to go barmy for the new hitman.
The former Anderlecht star was unable to influence the game too much in a fleeting appearance, but the excitement surrounding his arrival is unlikely to have dampened.
The new boys on the Toon look likely to help bring the good times back to Newcastle.