Coronavirus-addled Newcastle United was taken to the edge by West Bromwich Albion at St. James’ Park on Saturday but took down the Baggies 2-1.
Newcastle was playing its first match since Nov. 27, as a COVID-19 outbreak at the training ground led to the postponement of a match with Aston Villa on Dec. 4.
The Magpies hosted West Brom without Allan Saint-Maximin, Jamaal Lascelles, Federico Fernandez, Fabian Schar, Ryan Fraser, Javier Manquillo, Paul Dummett, and Martin Dubravka.
Some of those were down to injuries and the rest undisclosed, as Newcastle boss Steve Bruce started midfielder Isaac Hayden at center back next to Ciaran Clark.
Bruce credited Hayden for his performance and made an even more remarkable admission that the ex-Arsenal midfielder had been in bed for 10 days “more or less” with COVID-19.
Hayden missed the Nov. 27 win over Palace, and was photographed in training on Dec. 1.
Bruce said the club made the right decision to shut down the training ground once COVID hit Newcastle, saying the coronavirus “knocked [Hayden] to hell” and that the concern at the club was very real.
When Matt Ritchie moved to left back after Bruce removed Jamal Lewis for Dwight Gayle and Jacob Murphy came on for right back Emil Kraft, the Magpies had one true back on the pitch in Clark.
“We tried to play it down and we weren’t looking for any excuses but they’ve stuck together,” Bruce said. “I think we finished with three midfielders in the back four. I couldn’t be more pleased. With the problems we’ve had, the work they’ve done at home or parks or whatever – I couldn’t speak highly enough of them. Their effort and endeavor was spot on.”
Newcastle was fortunate that Matheus Pereira was suspended for West Brom and Conor Gallagher gave the Magpies fits, but to go through what they went through and emerge with 17 points through 11 matches is no doubt a boon.