Joe Willock can add impetus to floundering Newcastle’s midfield but problems run much deeper
Newcastle United fans are restless, as they have been for the 14 years of Mike Ashley’s ownership. The sports retail tycoon has committed a number of different crimes since he bought a 100% stake in the club back in 2007, and with the wrangle over a potential takeover seemingly never ceasing, apathy has well and truly set in amongst the fanbase.
Steve Bruce, the manager, is the man most prominently in the firing line right now. Newcastle have won just once in 13 games in all competitions, placing them firmly in danger of relegation for a third time under Ashley’s stewardship. Though there have been signs of improvement in performance levels and attacking proficiency in the last three games, which included a win over Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday, a home defeat to Crystal Palace on Tuesday plunged them right back into crisis.
The most stark criticism of Ashley has long been his lack of desire to invest and arm his managers with the tools to challenge in the Premier League. While this came to a head under Bruce’s predecessor Rafael Benitez and ultimately led to his departure just over 18 months ago, there is a feeling among supporters that Bruce isn’t making the most of the squad he has at his disposal. Newcastle have spent recent years scouring European markets looking for good players with sell on value at lower prices, such as their current star turn Allan Saint-Maximin, but with the coronavirus pandemic causing financial havoc for football clubs and relegation being perhaps more damaging than ever this season, a less risky approach was taken in the summer when Newcastle signed Premier League proven players Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser, Jamal Lewis and Jeff Hendrick.
Adding to the likes of Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron, those players were expected to allow Newcastle to look up the table rather than down. The blame for that not being the case, from a fan perspective, lies solely with Bruce.
January proved a quiet transfer window across the board. For once, there wasn’t much desperation for new arrivals on Tyneside, as is so often the case. Quite rightly, Bruce had identified the need for my energy in midfield; Newcastle have looked laboured and slow far too many games this season, and although it has been less obvious of late, Wilson has cut an isolated figure up front, despite now scoring 10 goals this term. A box-to-box midfielder was the top target and it soon became clear that the loan market would be their best option. Hamza Choudhury from Leicester City was heavily linked throughout last month, but in the end Joe Willock joined from Arsenal until the end of the season.
The 21-year-old is another temporary solution to what seems a permanent issue for Newcastle, another perennial trait of the Ashley regime. But he is the sort of midfield all rounder who should up the tempo in the middle for a team already on an upward trajectory in that regard. He offers something that Hendrick, Isaac Hayden and Jonjo Shelvey don’t, and should connect the midfield and attack to ensure Wilson continues to get more involved in the play.
There is no real chance of Willock becoming the long-term answer to Newcastle’s midfield energy issue, and this is a club which has been lurching and reaching for the next solution for too long. Their future is up in the air with takeover talk still buzzing around, but immediately at least, Newcastle should be able to build on the shreds of progress which have appeared lately.