It felt like Newcastle United had won a trophy, not a football match. But after fifteen games, seven months and four managers, a Premier League victory was always going to be savoured. In Eddie Howe, they might just have found their saviour.
The new boss looked even more drained than his players as he exited down the tunnel, a glaze in his eyes after an emotional lap of appreciation.
Seconds earlier, Howe had clenched his fists and shook them in the direction of the East Stand. He perhaps did not anticipate that the entire crowd would ape his celebration. ‘F****** love it’ he appeared to scream back at them.
Callum Wilson (l) scored the only goal as Newcastle got their first win of the season vs Burnley
Wilson netted just before half time and Newcastle were good value for the three points
Eddie Howe’s men will hope to kick on now and move themselves towards safety
He soon hugged Callum Wilson, and too right that he should. The No.9 was the match-winner here with a first-half strike of such quality to remind you why he was once an England international. Not that those days should be over on this evidence.
For now, though, Wilson is fighting to keep his club in the top-flight. Reunited with Howe – his old boss at Bournemouth – the pair represent Newcastle’s best chance of beating the drop, a feat that seemed unlikely after stumbling through to December without a win.
Steve Bruce had eight matches, caretaker Graeme Jones three and current assistant Jason Tindall just the one. For Howe, this was third time lucky, and boy did they need a bit of good fortune. Not that the aesthetics will matter to that joyous crowd of 52,000, who sung their manager’s name throughout.
He said: ‘The relationship we have quickly built with the fans is special. They were magnificent with the players today. It was an amazing feeling to get that first win for them. It was a thank you for everything they have given me and the team. Those scenes at the end can only galvanise us to move forward positively.’
It has been a good week for Howe. A 1-1 draw at home to relegation rivals Norwich should not feel uplifting. But on Tuesday night, for all associated with Newcastle, it did, strangely.
The toxicity that had long polluted St James’ under the previous owner and manager had evaporated. There was a sense of all pulling in the same direction, a feeling strengthened in adversity when Ciaran Clark was sent off early in the game. Supporters spoke afterwards of their pride in finally ‘having our club back’.
Howe and assistant manager Jason Tindall celebrated in style at the end of the game
Sean Dyche watched on in frustration as his side struggled to create clear-cut chances
But such evenings of positivity are a one-off to the backdrop of what was, in reality, a negative result. You cannot continue to celebrate togetherness while your season is falling apart. To that end, only victory would do against Burnley, pretty or otherwise.
It did not start well. Newcastle were better with 10 men for 80 minutes in midweek than they were with 11 for the opening 40 minutes here.
But in Wilson they have a striker who can render team performance academic. Give him a chance – a half chance, even – and he will likely come very close to scoring. He has learnt to become economical in this Newcastle side.
And so it was the case five minutes before the break when, from 14 yards, he squeezed the ball between the crossbar and the crown of Burnley striker Chris Wood, who at 6ft 3in was no insignificant barrier.
Wilson had done so after snaffling the scraps when Nick Pope fumbled from a high delivery. The goalkeeper wanted a free-kick after contact with Newcastle’s Fabian Schar. But Pope only had himself to blame for landing on top of the defender.
With referees less quick to whistle given the comfort of a VAR review, it is to the betterment of the game that the sight of a goalkeeper going to ground no longer equates to an automatic free-kick. Just ask David de Gea.
Allan Saint-Maximin buzzed about and caused problems for the Burnley defence
It was a hard-fought contest between two teams who are fighting for survival this season
The new Newcastle owners were as delighted as anyone inside St James’ Park
Burnley boss Sean Dyche said: ‘It’s a coming-together and on another day you might get it. But there was nothing malicious in the challenge (from Schar), it was just clumsy.
‘But the goal changed the game and the atmosphere. We were in control.’
Dyche was right. His side had hit the post through Johan Gudmundsson and Max Cornet was denied by a flying Martin Dubravka when heading on goal. The visitors were organised and composed, the hosts were not. Newcastle were improved in the second half but, amid a nervy close, retreated to the trenches.
Wilson revealed this week that the players were not fit enough under Bruce at the start of the season, evidenced by the ragged manner in which they would finish matches. Not this time. They resisted a late Burnley rally and the crowd responded to each and every block, tackle and clearance.
‘We did not carry anyone today,’ said Howe. ‘They knew the importance of putting their bodies on the line.’
Snow was falling by the time Howe came to reflect. It was a reminder as to how overdue this win really was.
James Tarkowski and Co battled hard to no avail and left Tyneside without any points
Wilson’s strike gave Newcastle a deserved lead that they did not relinquish