Eddie Howe’s Newcastle era begins with thrilling point against Brentford

As the final whistle blew Eddie Howe may well have felt more than a little claustrophobic. It was not merely that Newcastle’s new manager was trapped in his hotel room at the start of a 10-day quarantine after his positive Covid-19 test on Friday, but that his team seem stuck in an unpleasantly tight spot.

At the end of an at times ridiculously open game replete with attacking thrills and kamikaze defending, Newcastle were left bottom of the Premier League, still awaiting their first win of the season.

Even worse, they had offered Thomas Frank’s Brentford renewed hope by generously helping the visitors stem a run of four straight League defeats. Howe had promised excitement and front-foot football and his team duly delivered it but, as he watched the first game of his tenure relayed on a screen in his hotel across the city, Steve Bruce’s successor surely wondered if “finding a way to win” might have been a better manifesto pledge.

Howe’s eloquent talk of “philosophy” and “principles” is important and admirable but, right now, Newcastle are in real peril of relegation and, no matter how scrappily, could desperately do with somehow securing six points from forthcoming home games against Norwich and Burnley.

Not that Jason Tindall was too downhearted. “We have a squad of exciting, attacking players and, on another day, we’d have won,” said Howe’s assistant and stand-in. “It was a step in the right direction.”

The events of the 10th and 11th minutes offered the absent guest of honour a foretaste of contradictions to come. First Jamaal Lascelles gave Newcastle the briefest of leads, rising above all comers to head Matt Ritchie’s corner beyond Álvaro Fernández.

The celebrations had barely subsided before his side self destructed. Sergi Canós slipped the ball to Ivan Toney and a striker sold to Peterborough by Newcastle in 2018 revelled in taking a stellar steadying touch, swivelling imperiously and squeezing a shot beneath Karl Darlow’s body.

Darlow should have done better but was let down by some all too typically slapdash defending, while Toney deserves considerable credit for that adhesive initial touch.

Indeed on a day when Saint-Maximin, Joelinton and Jonjo Shelvey all impressed for Newcastle, Toney stole the show. Already on an evident adrenaline high, Brentford’s centre-forward was being afforded far too much space and he soon had the ball in the back of the net again.

On that occasion Howe’s defence were rescued by an offside flag but they fell behind when Canós lost Ritchie and delivered a deep cross. It was met by the on-rushing Rico Henry whose late dash into the box went untracked by the home rearguard, enabling his header to defy Darlow.

Bruce claimed Joelinton wasn’t overly interested in goalscoring but the £40m Brazilian striker appeared to contest that assertion as Allan Saint-Maximin’s blocked shot was deflected into his path.

After expertly manoeuvring the ball on to his left foot, Joelinton, alternating flanks with Saint-Maximin at the front of Howe’s 3-4-3 formation, lashed an exquisite finish past Fernández. Maybe he isn’t “a very poor man’s Ivan Toney” after all.

Toney, though, remained on a mission to destabilise a former employer worryingly susceptible to counterattacks and delighted in causing chaos during the preamble to Frank Onyeka’s shot taking a hefty deflection off Lascelles before flashing beyond a wrong-footed Darlow.

With Saint-Maximin provoking similar panic among Frank’s defence things oscillated wildly from end to end but Tindall, had seen enough.

In a highly inspired tactical re-vamp, Howe’s assistant – in “constant telephone dialogue” with his boss – duly replaced the underwhelming Joe Willock and immensely disappointing Fabian Schär with Ryan Fraser and Sean Longstaff as he switched to a back four.

When Fraser met Saint-Maximin’s pass and swung in a deceptively curving cross it was met by the accelerating Frenchman whose sublime first-time volley proved far too good for Fernández.

As Saint-Maximin performed a series of acrobatic back flips Frank was torn between pride and disappointment. “We were at a big party we weren’t invited to and showed great mentality,” said Brentford’s manager. “But we didn’t defend well enough – we gave far too much away.”

Howe surely sympathises.