Miguel Almiron impresses on full debut as Newcastle continue resurgence
By Pete Hall at St James' Park
Last Updated: 24/02/19 7:34am
Miguel Almiron impressed on his full Newcastle debut in a 2-0 win over Huddersfield to further enhance a side very much on the up, writes Pete Hall.
The expectation on his shoulders could not be greater. Manager Rafael Benitez and his staff have done their best to dampen expectations - after all this is a young South American who has never played in Europe before.
Nonetheless, 52,000 Newcastle fans expected to see something from shiny new record signing Almiron on his St James' Park bow against beleaguered Huddersfield.
The majority will have never have seen him play, or even watched Almiron's best bits on YouTube, but after years of frustration over a lack of spending under Benitez, to simply have broken their long-standing transfer record, one that stood for nearly 14 years, meant fans were more than eager to see what this big-money signing could do.
Almiron did not disappoint. He may not have scored against Huddersfield, but he was involved in everything right from the off, and departed to a standing ovation when substituted late on. These fans are desperate for a new hero, and Almiron has whetted their appetites after the first glimpse of what he can do.
"He was doing what we were expecting," Benitez said after the game. "He has energy, he is running all over the pitch. He is trying to link with players. I think it was a great game for him and the fans to enjoy."
And enjoy they did. Almiron provided a lovely cross for Ayoze Perez in just the third minute, but Perez was unable to connect.
Then came Almiron's moment. The football that helped create the chance for Almiron was sublime in the extreme, setting Almiron clear, but the Paraguayan elected to chip the ball over Huddersfield goalkeeper Jonas Lossl, with the ball coming out off the post. Nonetheless, such confidence has already attracted admirers.
"Almiron looks a decent player and to have the bottle to try to chip the 'keeper with his chance one vs one," Sky Sports' Paul Merson said after the match. "I think Newcastle have a right result with signing him.
"He's brave and he's got good vision. He's willing to work and he looks like one of those players who's very grateful to be in the Premier League."
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Much talk in the press box before the game was whether Almiron would be able to produce the goods at regular intervals, with some questioning whether the heavier grass pitches of the Premier League would take their toll, as opposed to synthetic pitches more common in the MLS.
However, Almiron kept plugging away. Even after being chopped down by Tommy Smith in the 20th minute, a tackle that earned the Huddersfield captain a straight red card, Almiron got to his feet and came again.
In total, the 25-year-old created six chances in the match for his team-mates - two more than anyone else on the pitch - and with better finishing, from Perez especially, Almiron would have come away with an assist.
Almiron has come into a Newcastle team at the right time, and very much on the up. Newcastle could not buy a win at home at the beginning of the season, with the defeat to Wolves in early December meaning they set the record for their worst start after nine home matches of a season in the top four tiers of English football.
Protests were plentiful, with fans' ire targeted firmly on owner Mike Ashley. However, fast forward just over two months, and after a few home wins, and having seen that transfer record finally broken, things are starting to look up in this part of the north east.
Young Sean Longstaff was once again superb in midfield for Newcastle, while the tireless Salomon Rondon again led the line expertly.
"Good things look like they're coming around the corner at Newcastle," Merson added. "It could've been seven or eight."
Merson is right. Newcastle mustered 29 shots against Huddersfield, their most in a Premier League game since attempting 32 against Swansea in November 2012.
Yes it was against a side bottom of the league, with 10 men, but producing such a figure a few months ago when morale was at its lowest, even against such meek opposition, would not have been possible.
Newcastle are only four points clear of the bottom three, and are therefore not out of the woods yet, but victory over Burnley on Tuesday, at home, and survival, once again, will be in their sights.
And, equipped with a new, hungry record signing, another previously unthinkable top-half finish is not completely out of the question.