“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for NUFC and we’re feeling good,” read a giant banner unfurled in the Gallowgate End before kick off.
Nottingham Forest’s initial obduracy would test the optimism of the legions of Newcastle fans buying into that message but, well before 5pm, Fabian Schär’s superlative opening goal and another fine finish from Callum Wilson would ensure it was most definitely not a case of tempting fate.
Forest were back in Premier League action for the first time in 23 years and with Steve Cooper handing debuts to six of his 12 summer signings, traveling supporters arrived in suitably emotional mood.
Their admirably resilient team spent quite a long time spoiling Newcastle’s prospective party courtesy of some last-ditch defending, with their captain, Joe Worrall, leading the resistance from his station in the back three. Ultimately though Newcastle, and the richly gifted Brazil midfielder Bruno Guimarães especially, were too good to be contained indefinitely.
“We needed to be patient and Forest defended well but it was a brilliant performance,” said Howe. “I was very pleased with what I saw.”
Cooper had no complaints. “Newcastle deserved to win, they were the better team,” he said. “We defended OK but we weren’t good enough in possession; we fell short and we have to learn. We weren’t the team we want to be.”
Whether it was nerves, the sheer quality and intensity of Newcastle’s play, or a bit of both, Forest’s retention of possession was consistently poor. Without the ball though, they did a decent job of restricting the home side’s room for maneuver in the penalty area.
The tone was set early on when Jack Colback, once a Newcastle midfielder, chased the accelerating Guimarães for several yards before sliding in to cleanly remove the ball from his toes.
Although Guimarães was not ambushed again, Colback played well, using his streetwise intelligence to help keep Forest, who conceded six corners within the first 20 minutes, in the game for longer than might have been expected. Despite at times a near constant home attacking barrage, Forest’s loanee goalkeeper Dean Henderson remained well protected for protracted periods.
With Joelinton, impressive in his new guise as a box-to-box No 8, and the similarly industrious Miguel Almirón having evidently mislaid their shooting boots it was easy to appreciate why Howe craves an extra striker to compete with Wilson.
Although Allan Saint-Maximin initially tortured Forest’s new right wing-back, Neco Williams, the former Liverpool defender gradually got to grips with a French winger whose dispossession by Lewis O’Brien prompted arguably the best visiting chance.
When O’Brien found the Manchester United old boy Jesse Lingard dangerously placed, St James’ Park held its collective breath but Fabian Schär made a vital block, ensuring Nick Pope – underworked yet commanding at crosses on his Newcastle debut following a move from Burnley – remained untroubled.
Despite making the former Lille centre-half Sven Botman a £35m marquee summer signing, Howe started Schär and Dan Burn at the heart of his defence, leaving Botman on the bench until stoppage time.
Schär underlined his worth by breaking the deadlock after Forest partially cleared yet another corner. When the ball fell to the Switzerland defender about 40 yards out few expected Schär to test Henderson’s reflexes, but after taking a couple of steadying touches he advanced to unleash an unstoppable 25-yard right-foot shot that scorched into the top corner, hitting the inside of a post en route. “An incredible strike from a centre-back who does unconventional things,” said Howe.
With Guimarães’ stellar touches and subtle through passes threatening to overwhelm Forest, Newcastle remained very much in the ascendancy. Nevertheless, when Sam Surridge escaped Kieran Trippier and met Williams’s cross only to head it wastefully into the ground, it explained the home fans’s collective yearning for another goal.
The hard-working but well-shadowed Wilson duly obliged, dodging his marker adroitly to control Joelinton’s cross with the outside of his right foot before cleverly flicking the ball beyond Henderson’s reach from an unpromisingly awkward angle.
On this evidence, a brilliant sun might really be rising over Tyneside.