If Newcastle’s season was defined in part by Allan Saint-Maximin, he might have saved it in the span of seven minutes. They were drawn into the relegation battle after contracting coronavirus in November. Now he may have got them out of it.
A third win in 20 games came thanks to Saint-Maximin’s catalytic cameo and could spare them a tense final of the season. They are six points ahead of Fulham and just one behind his victims, Burnley. Security beckons.
Burnley can testify to the devastating impact of Saint-Maximin. He got an assist and a goal in quick succession, giving Newcastle a lead they haven’t given up. This may prove to be the most influential substitution of their season. Any justification for Steve Bruce, who brought him in, and Mike Ashley, who persevered with an unpopular coach who now has four points from his last two games? Some might say no: the introduction of Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson was a no-brainer, and while Bruce was careful with two players who had recently recovered from injury, others could have them. to trigger.
Their season remains disappointing and their performance in the first half was poor but Newcastle, who had been aggrieved by being denied a penalty before half-time, could instead savor a comeback and a first win in eight matches.
The injuries and aftermath of Covid have made Saint-Maximin a bit playful in recent months but, for seven minutes, he was explosive. First, he occupied two defenders in a mazy dribble and caught up with Jacob Murphy, whose shot fell back from Bailey Peacock-Farrell. Then he picked up the ball in the center circle, drove forward and turned away from Ben Mee and James Tarkowski before throwing a shot at the nearest post.
Burnley might regret his genius and the options available to Bruce. Sean Dyche’s bench consisted of four youngsters; his two striking substitutes were rookies, not Wilson and Saint-Maximin. His starting forwards impressed a little more than Joelinton, who failed to rely on the fine display against Tottenham last week. But, for the second week in a row, his attackers gave him a lead which they gave up.
Chris Wood may look like a bulky dribbler, but he passed Ciaran Clark too easily to cut the ball back for Matej Vydra to advance in his shot. It underscored how hesitant Clark was in the central role of Newcastle’s three full-backs. It had been filled by Jamaal Lascelles against Tottenham but, with the captain’s season possibly over, Bruce rearranged his defense, initially unsuccessful.
Without Martin Dubravka’s agility, Burnley’s lead could have been insurmountable. He made two remarkable reflex saves, the first to parry Josh Brownhill’s header, the second to spare Paul Dummett an own goal when a clearance attempt turned into a threatening volley. He again excelled at reversing a volley from Matthew Lowton, who has a flair for the spectacular, and denied Dwight McNeil, who wielded considerable influence.
The transformative effect of Saint-Maximin lasted until the afternoon of Peacock-Farrell. Substituting Nick Pope, who has a shoulder injury, his second top-flight game featured a superb save to deny Dwight Gayle who had applied a touch close to the post in Jacob Murphy’s center. Burnley got another sort of reprieve; James Tarkowski both cleared and then kicked Sean Longstaff in the head as the Newcastle midfielder tried to convert the rebound. Neither Anthony Taylor nor VAR Stuart Attwell thought it deserved a kick, much to Newcastle’s dismay. “I don’t understand the rules anymore,” tweeted injured Newcastle midfielder Isaac Hayden. “Everywhere else on the pitch, it’s a penalty.”
The Professional Match Officials Council was quick to report that the fact that Tarkowski played the ball first and Longstaff “leaned” spared Burnley. But Saint-Maximin didn’t and, although Vydra had twice threatened to equalize, Tarkowski made a magnificent clearance on the goal line to deny Miguel Almíron a third goal for Newcastle.