For two years the mantra “intensity is our identity” served Eddie Howe and his Newcastle players extremely well but in recent weeks that creed has, almost imperceptibly, become a problem rather than a solution.
Howe’s exhaustive high‑pressing game is now producing so much fatigue and resulting in so many injuries that a change of philosophy seems essential if he and his team are to rescue a season that, until recently, promised so much.
Newcastle’s sixth defeat in their past seven games in all competitions – and fourth in five Premier League fixtures – arrived after they walked into the tactical trap set by Nottingham Forest’s new manager, Nuno Espírito Santo, and operated impeccably by the outstanding visiting winger Anthony Elanga and the hat-trick-scoring centre‑forward Chris Wood.
The New Zealand striker scored only one goal in 20 appearances at St James’ Park as a Newcastle player but here he revelled in playing the role of a ghost of Christmas past sent to haunt the manager who once invested £25m in his attacking talent.
The name of former Newcastle United striker Chris Wood reverberated around St James’ Park. That was a first. In 15 minutes he trebled the amount of goals he had scored on the ground as a Newcastle player.
His hat-trick for Nottingham Forest caused Newcastle to collapse at home. It was only their second league defeat of the season at St James’ Park, and for the first time since 1988, Nottingham Forest left Tyneside with three points from a top-flight game.
But then Nottingham Forest were first to most things. First to the challenge, first with their invention and first repeatedly on their lightning quick counter-attacks. Nuno Espírito Santo’s side were 6-1 to win for the second time in their last 20 Premier League away games, and those odds looked more ridiculous with each passing minute as a genuine, head-turning result unfolded.
Eddie Howe left the field ashen-faced at full-time with his players once more following a traditional lap of thanks. St James’ Park still had supporters in it when that happened, but many were long gone. There were even a handful of jeers when defeat No 8 of the league season had ended.
Bought as Newcastle United’s survival saviour, then rushed through the exit door as soon as the Saudi Arabian money started to be lavished on Tyneside, Chris Wood returned to St James’ Park to ensure his former employers endured a miserable end to 2023.
This has been a memorable year for Newcastle, featuring Champions League adventures, a top-four finish and a trip to Wembley, but it ends with six defeats from seven matches. Eddie Howe still has plenty of credit in the bank, both in terms of Newcastle’s owners and the club’s fans, but the alarm bells are ringing as his side endure their worst run since his first two months in charge.
Wood won’t worry too much about that, but having scored just one goal in his 20 matches at St James’ Park as a Newcastle player, even the 32-year-old cannot have imagined making such a successful return.
Newcastle splashed out £25 million to sign him when they desperately needed a striker to scramble out of the relegation zone two seasons ago, but jettisoned him in January as expectations were raised and ambitions recalibrated.
Chris Wood retuned to haunt Newcastle with a stunning hat-trick as Nottingham Forest handed new boss Nuno Espirito Santo the first Premier League victory of his reign.
Wood, the man for whom the Magpies’ new owners paid Burnley £25million in January last year in a bid to stave off relegation, took advantage of woeful defending to plunder a treble which ended his former club’s seven-game winning league run at St James’ Park and condemned them to a sixth defeat in seven games in all competitions.
A 3-1 victory was little more than the visitors deserved on a day when Eddie Howe’s men, who took the lead through a contentious Alexander Isak penalty, were ripped apart by Anthony Elanga and Morgan Gibbs-White in front of a disbelieving crowd of 52,207.
Victory on Tyneside served as a boost to Forest’s survival hopes, but left a huge question mark over Newcastle’s chances of repeating last season’s top-four finish with a trip to Liverpool and Manchester City’s visit to St James’ to come either side of their FA Cup third-round tie against Sunderland.
Two years ago Newcastle United signed Chris Wood to save their season. A swaggering return in the red of Nottingham Forest leaves alarm bells clanging loud and clear for his old boss Eddie Howe.
Wood’s brilliant hat-trick was lift-off for Forest’s new manager Nuno Espirito Santo, whose team were scintillating on the counter-attack as they inflicted a rare domestic home defeat on out-of-sorts Newcastle. He has the big win to offer him instant authority.
But for Howe the campaign has suddenly taken a darker turn as a remarkable 2023 curdles into the first serious questions about the club’s direction under his stewardship. Fitness, obvious signs of fatigue and injuries to key players provide mitigation but managers are inevitably left exposed when their teams lose like this.
This has gone from a blip to something that feels bigger. They have lost six of their last seven games and exited the Champions League and Carabao Cup in a damaging December. But it is also eight defeats in 12, stretching back to November. With an unforgiving January fixture list looming large, this feels serious.
Nuno Espirito Santo is backing striker Chris Wood to fire Nottingham Forest away from Premier League trouble after seeing him plunder a hat-trick to fell former club Newcastle.
The New Zealand international, who left Tyneside for the City Ground this summer having played his part in Newcastle’s top-flight survival fight two seasons ago, scored one goal for the Magpies in 20 appearances at St James’ Park, but trebled that on a memorable afternoon to secure a 3-1 Boxing Day win.
Asked if the 32-year-old could become prolific this season, new head coach Espirito Santo said: ‘I think so, I really believe so.
‘He did it last week, today he did it again. It’s about the team helping, so it’s not only him, it’s how we want to do things to create chances for him. But I’m very happy with him now.
‘Chris Wood, we know him, everybody knows him. He’s been in the game for a while now, but the way he did it today, how he scored, how he was in the right moments – the second goal is beautiful, it’s beautiful, the one-v-one and then the composure to just flick the ball over the goalkeeper, so thank you Chris for the job today.’
Newcastle were punished by Nottingham Forest after failing to capitalise on their early dominance, with former Magpies star Chris Wood scoring his first ever hat-trick for the visitors in a come-from-behind win.
Alexander Isak opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, slotting away a penalty after being felled by Ola Aina in the penalty area. Forest didn’t lie down, though, and equalised in first-half stoppage time when Wood tapped him against his former club.
Eddie Howe’s hosts failed to come out swinging in the second half, allowing their visitors to strike again through Wood. When the well-travelled striker added his and Forest’s third, it was game over.
The victory was Nuno Espirito Santo’s first as Forest boss, helping ease some lingering relegation concerns. Newcastle, meanwhile, will be desperate to put a painful December behind them.
Some sloppy Newcastle defending gave Forest’s Morgan Gibbs-White the first real chance of the game, with the playmaker firing a warning shot just past Martin Dubravka’s right-hand post. It was the hosts who took the lead from the spot, though, with visiting winger Anthony Elanga wasting a chance to feed ex-Newcastle striker Chris Wood for a tap-in.
Now it really is getting serious for out-of-sorts Newcastle.
Losing away from home is one thing but when a side who’ve never previously picked up a Premier League point against the Magpies breach their St James’ Park fortress, the alarm bells are ringing loudly.
Eddie Howe’s job may not be in peril but the stats are wracking up against him after the worst home display since he arrived over two years ago.
This was Newcastle’s sixth defeat in seven games, their third in a row and it;s Liverpool away next.
The star was ex-Toon striker Chris Wood, a striker deemed surplus to requirements by the Saudi-rich club on their supposedly inexorable climb towards the top of the football summit.
Wood scored a memorable hat-trick for Forest who came from a goal down to win for only the second time since September 2.
Their last victory in a top flight game on Tyneside was in 1988 when Brian Clough ran the show.