Newcastle kicked off their participation in the Premier League US Summer Series with a highly entertaining 3-3 draw against Aston Villa in Philadelphia, watched by over 40,000 supporters.
Eddie Howe adopted an unusual 3-4-2-1 formation for the first 70 minutes of the game, with Martin Dúbravka between the posts, Kieran Trippier playing in an unfamiliar right-centre-back position, Paul Dummett on the opposite side of Fabian Schär, Matt Targett and Jacob Murphy as wing-backs, Sandro Tonali paired with Bruno Guimarães in the centre of midfield for the first time, and Miguel Almirón and Elliot Anderson playing off Alexander Isak up front.
It was Anderson who really caught the eye in a frantic first half, dragging the Magpies back into the game having seen his side fall 2-0 down within 11 minutes to goals from Ollie Watkins and Emi Buendía. First, he scored a very composed right-footed finish after breaking Villa's extremely high defensive line to latch onto Murphy's through ball from the right flank.
Soon after, he robbed Boubacar Kamara in midfield and drove forward past Matty Cash and Esri Konsa, before seeing his left-footed shot well saved by Emiliano Martínez. Isak was on hand to slot in the rebound, though, sending the game into half-time at 2-2.
A raft of changes were made by Howe at that point, with every outfield player bar Targett replaced by Jamaal Lascelles, Sven Botman, Dan Burn, Javier Manquillo, Lewis Miley, Joelinton, Matt Ritchie, Anthony Gordon, and Callum Wilson. The disruption didn't help his side, however, with Villa getting back in front all too easily following good work from Buendía (the best player on the pitch), Jaden Philogene-Bidace, and Omari Kellyman that ended with Buendía knocking in a rebound from Kellyman's saved shot.
It didn't take Newcastle too long to settle and respond, though, with Lascelles arrowing a superb long diagonal over the head of the erratic Diego Carlos to find the onrushing Gordon. The winger fired a powerful left-footed effort at goal from 15 yards, which Robin Olsen could only palm into the path of Wilson who dispatched first-time with the ease we've come to expect.
Two huge penalty shouts for Howe's side came and went thereafter, with the only other real items of note in the closing stages being the debut of Barnes and deserved bookings for Joelinton and Burn. On the balance of play, 3-3 was probably a fair result, though in terms of chances created, the game was probably edged by the Magpies.
Here are full highlights of the 90 minutes, courtesy of the Sky Sports YouTube channel:
In a somewhat bizarre first period that was played at a breakneck speed, it was only really Anderson that stood out among the crowd. There were notably poor showings from Dúbravka, Trippier (albeit out of position), Dummett, Murphy, and Tonali, but none of the senior professionals covered themselves in glory.
Dúbravka – 5
Trippier – 5
Schär – 6
Dummett – 5
Murphy – 5
Guimarães – 6
Tonali – 5
Targett – 6
Almirón – 6
Anderson – 9
Isak – 7
The second half was a better overall showing, though the game did settle quite a lot and the Villa XI got increasingly weaker as Emery made changes. Still, this was a good night for Lascelles, Miley looked superb and never shied away from anything, and both Gordon and Wilson looked razor-sharp.
Lascelles – 7
Botman – 6
Burn – 6
Manquillo – 6
Miley – 8
Joelinton – 6
Barnes – 6
Ritchie – 6
Gordon – 7
Wilson – 7
Howe spoke to NUFC TV immediately after the game
"I didn't enjoy the start. It was a strange game. We were 2-0 down and I actually thought we were doing okay. It was a real test of character at 2-0 because what you don't want to do is lose control in that moment. We were strong mentally and then able to find a way back into it.
I'd say there were some really, really good bits in the game. And there were some bits that weren't so good, conceding three goals. I'm going to be up late analysing that, as there was some good and some not so good. We know we've got work to do to get the lads to their optimum level. But when you consider that the group has not really worked together fully yet due to the internationals and a lot of travelling, we'll be pleased to get back and have two really good weeks before the season starts.
I think he's (Anderson) done really well. He came back really fit, we saw that in our first day testing. He's done really well today by nicking balls in midfield and being aggressive. But the composure shown around the box was elite today. He's done excellently for the two goals we've scored. Every attacking player is judged on that (goals and assists) and Elliot will be no different. I think he is a potential goalscorer for us, I think he is a goal creator as well, he's a very good player. He's in an area of the team where there's huge competition for places with some very, very good players. We really like him, we think he's developing nicely, and he's got a big part to play.
There's an expectation on us to entertain, as there always is, and we want to do that. I think the games have been quite open here, every team has been very front-foot. Sometimes when we're at St. James' we don't get to see that from the opposing teams, so I think they've been great games and that's what the supporters want to see.
The supporters have been crazy and there's been some very friendly banter going around. We love playing for the supporters wherever they're from and to see the black and white shirts everywhere across Philadelphia today was a heartwarming sight.
With Harvey, we weren't sure whether to play him tonight. He had a long journey yesterday and hadn't trained with the team, but we just felt it was really good to get his debut and get his journey started at Newcastle. I thought he was really bright when he came on but I'm really looking forward to getting some training ground work with him now."
NUFC TV only managed to nab Callum Wilson after the whistle, here are his most notable comments:
"It was a difficult start to the game, we took a little bit of time to get going, but I think we showed great character to come back into it. Going behind in any game is always difficult but to come back, go level, then go behind again, we showed great character and that's what we're going to need going through the season.
We just had self-belief. We kept to what we know, our gameplan which we didn't do at first. They played such a high line that we then got in behind it and it was about being clinical and making the right choices at the right time. We started to do that when we got a grip of the game.
It was nice (to score), it's always nice when you hit the back of the net, whether it's pre-season or whether it's in the league. For me as a striker, you always want to score and get off the mark, and it's nice for me to do that today.
It's been amazing (in the US). To see so many black and white shirts out here is fantastic. They've travelled in their numbers, which we appreciate as players, it's not easy, it costs a lot, so we're grateful. As players all we want to do is put in a performance for those guys."
Newcastle are next in action in Atlanta against Chelsea on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, with a kick-off time of 1.15 a.m. against Mauricio Pochettino's side.