Steve Bruce hailed striker Andy Carroll after seeing him come off the bench to inspire Newcastle to a comeback victory over Southampton.
The Magpies looked to be slipping tamely to defeat at St James’ Park when the 30-year-old, who returned to his first club on a pay-as-you-play contract in August, replaced the misfiring Joelinton and changed the complexion of the game.
It was from his cross that Jonjo Shelvey headed the equaliser with 22 minutes remaining before Federico Fernandez snatched victory late on after Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy could only parry substitute Sean Longstaff’s piledriver.
Head coach Bruce said: “It was like Andy Carroll of 10 years ago. What a ball for the goal – Jonjo hasn’t had to break his stride. I’m delighted for him. If he stays well, he can be a big asset to us.
“Today, he was sitting behind me stripped, I think, from the 15th minute. Thankfully he’s OK and came on and won us the match.”
By Bruce’s own admission, the Magpies turned in a poor first-half display as they attempted to build upon last weekend’s hard-fought draw with champions Manchester City and Thursday night’s 2-0 win at Sheffield United.
Having seen keeper Martin Dubravka make two fine saves from Nathan Redmond, Newcastle fell behind seven minutes after the restart when Danny Ings scored, only for his strike eventually to be cancelled out and then overhauled.
The win, which was watched by a crowd of just 42,303 – the lowest for a Premier League game at St James’ in nine years – took them into 10th place with 22 points from their first 16 games.
Asked if he would have taken that at the start of the season, Bruce replied with a smile: “What do you think?
“We’ve still got to get better. It’s given us a nice platform to move forward and that is vitally important, but look we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Bruce’s joy was tempered by the loss of defender Ciaran Clark with a calf problem and, in particular, of in-form winger Allan Saint-Maximin to a hamstring injury, for which the Newcastle boss blamed himself.
He said: “He had a nasty ankle the other night and was hobbling around, but when he pulls up the way he did, then we all fear the worst and that is the downside of playing somebody tired.”
Opposite number Ralph Hasenhuttl could not believe his team was heading home with nothing to show for its efforts.
He said: “I saw only my team playing football today, to be honest, but they got three points – that’s football sometimes. We had the chances, they scored the goals, so that’s a pity.
“But if you look at the three performances this week, two wins at home and today we played a really brave away game, maybe the best one of the season, I must be proud of the way my players played today.
“When the opponent was struggling, they tried to play long balls to Carroll and that’s not easy to defend. Everybody knows he’s 10-feet tall.”
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