A lot can happen in 586 days. Newcastle United players stared at the floor as a red-faced Steve Bruce roared at them following a 5-0 defeat at the King Power Stadium back in September, 2019; on Friday night, however, they were celebrating a superb victory in the same dressing room.
The squad rarely take photos inside their inner sanctum but this 4-2 victory against the Foxes felt significant. Not only had the Magpies effectively secured their Premier League status; Bruce’s side had produced, arguably, their finest performance since the 60-year-old’s appointment back in 2019.
Was it any wonder, then, that before getting showered, the phones came out and the players posed for a celebratory team photo.
Dwight Gayle, Andy Carroll, Jamal Lewis, Javier Manquillo and Ciaran Clark may not have even have got on the field on Friday night, but it said it all about the togetherness of the group that they were keen to share the moment with their exhausted team-mates.
There have been various factors behind Newcastle’s recent turnaround – the return of Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin; Joe Willock’s goals; and a switch to a 3-5-2 – but team spirit has, perhaps, been the secret to the Magpies’ turnaround.
Following a 3-0 defeat at Brighton seven weeks ago, Newcastle players could have gone the other way after the hierarchy decided to keep faith with Bruce.
However, players and staff have rallied together and Newcastle have claimed as many points in their past five Premier League games (10) as they managed in their 15 matches prior to this run.
A handful of these players face an uncertain few weeks as they enter the final stages of their contracts but, regardless of what happens, they will cherish this victory, which Amanda Staveley’s husband, Mehrdad Ghodoussi, rightly hailed as a ‘class performance’.
Bruce confirmed after the game that ‘big conversations’ will take place before the month is out and that the Magpies were already ‘nibbling away at one or two things’
A priority this summer will be, somehow, convincing Arsenal to let Newcastle keep hold of Willock for at least one more season following another impressive display.
But it would be wrong to single out individuals after such an encouraging all-round performance and, tellingly, Newcastle did not have to rely on talisman Allan Saint-Maximin, who had a relatively quiet evening.
Ahead of the game, Bruce acknowledged that if Newcastle were at their best then they were ‘capable’ while Callum Wilson called on his side to believe that they were ‘going to get something out of it’ rather than just ‘turn up and get turned over’.
As much as Newcastle’s subsequent performance came as a surprise, Rodgers was well-aware of the threat the Magpies carried on the break – and he was ultimately proved right.
“I think they will be very good on the counter-attack and they don’t solely just sit back,” he said ahead of the game.
“They have got some excellent players, some dangerous players at the front end of the field, so Newcastle is a team that like to impose their way of playing.
“Of course, they have players with great speed and can hit you on that counter-attack but we know it’s going to be a tough game.”
Bruce made just two changes for the trip to the East Midlands as Willock made his first start since March and Emil Krafth came in for Clark, who suffered a knock ahead of the game.
Given how there were nine survivors from that poor display against Arsenal five days previously, Newcastle’s assured start was all the more striking.
Leicester appeared to have been unsettled by Jonny Evans’ late withdrawal in the warm-up and rather than switching to a back four, Rodgers matched Newcastle up and fielded right-back Timothy Castagne in a three-man defence.
The Champions League chasers had plenty of possession but were strangely sluggish, considering what was at stake, and Newcastle quickly grew in confidence.
Federico Fernandez glanced a header wide in the 13th minute after getting on the end of Jonjo Shelvey’s teasing free-kick and, then, just three minutes later, the Magpies cut Leicester open with a lightning quick breakaway but Kasper Schmeichel, somehow, kept Allan Saint-Maximin’s effort out.
It felt like a big chance but Newcastle were soon in front after Caglar Soyuncu dawdled in a dangerous area and Willock nipped in, held the Leicester defender off and coolly finished past Schmeichel midway through the first half.
Newcastle have been guilty of switching off after scoring in recent weeks and Martin Dubravka was called into action just a few minutes later to make a big save to keep Wesley Fofana’s close-range header out.
But Willock’s opener did not necessarily awaken sluggish Leicester and, crucially, Newcastle did not sit back and retreat as they have done previously.
Newcastle duly doubled their advantage in the 34th minute after Paul Dummett rose highest to head home from Matt Ritchie’s corner to give the visitors a crucial cushion.
The Magpies, however, still looked a little vulnerable after scoring and Dubravka had to make an important stop to push away Kelechi Iheanacho’s effort before making another big save to keep out Jamie Vardy on the stroke of half-time.
It could have been a very different game if Newcastle had gone into the break with only a one-goal advantage but, crucially, the black-and-whites had some breathing space.
Also, Leicester had to pile forward in the second half to try and get back in the game and that left even more gaps for Newcastle to try and exploit on the break.
That is exactly what happened in the 64th minute when Ritchie slipped Wilson in and the striker, who caused out of position right back Castagne so many problems with his movement, calmly rounded Schmeichel before scoring Newcastle’s third.
Remarkably, Newcastle were not finished and, just nine minutes later, Almiron split Leicester’ porous defence open to play Wilson in and although the Magpies’ top scorer hit the post with his initial effort, he slotted home the rebound from a tight angle.
Leicester did manage to pull one back as Albrighton blasted home from the edge of the area late on and Iheanacho grabbed a second to set up a grandstand finish.
Dubravka was called upon to keep out former team-mate Ayoze Perez at the death but the visitors managed to hang on – even if they did not make it easy for themselves.