“It’s new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for NUFC and we’re feeling good,” declared a giant banner unfurled in the Gallowgate End before kick-off.
Nottingham Forest’s first-half resistance would test the optimism of the legions of Newcastle fans buying into that message but, well before tea-time, a superlative defying goal from Fabian Schär and another fine finish on Callum Wilson’s part 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 the travelling support arrived in celebratory mood.
Their team spent the first half spoiling Newcastle’s prospective party courtesy of much fairly formidable last ditch defending with the captain Joe Worrall leading the resistance from his station in the back three.
Whether it was nerves, Newcastle’s quality and intensity or a bit of both, Worrall’s team-mates were often very poor when it came to keeping the ball but, without it, they frequently did a great job of restricting the home side’s room for penalty area manoeuvre.
The tone was set in the opening minutes when the Tyneside-born Jack Colback, once a Newcastle midfielder, chased the accelerating Bruno Guimarães for several yards before, to the Brazilian’s evident shock, eventually sliding in to cleanly remove the ball from his toes.
Colback played well in central midfield using his talent and streetwise intelligence to help keep a Forest side who conceded six corners within the first 20 minutes alone in the game. Despite an at times near constant home attacking barrage – often led by Kieran Trippier’s excellent advances from right back – Forest’s Manchester United loanee goalkeeper Dean Henderson had surprisingly little of substance to do.
No matter that Cooper’s players kept forfeiting possession, Henderson’s only real first half save saw him pushing away a routine shot from Joelinton. Howe’s conversion of Joelinton from non-scoring centre forward to dynamic No 8 last season proved a minor masterstroke and it’s wisdom was once again emphasised as the now box-to-box Brazilian surged beyond a slew of markers before ultimately shooting wide from a highly promising position.
With Miguel Almirón once again unable to crown plenty of fine approach work with a goal and the hard-working Wilson well marked by Worrall, it was easy to appreciate why Howe is so keen to sign an extra striker.
Although Allan Saint-Maximin initially tortured Forest’s new right wing-back, Neco Williams, the former Liverpool defender gradually got to grips with the Frenchman. Indeed it was Saint-Maximin’s dispossession by Lewis O’Brien that prompted the visitors’ sole real first-half chance.
When O’Brien eventually found Jesse Lingard in a dangerous position, St James’ Park held its collective breath but Schär made a vital block to ensure Nick Pope – making his Newcastle debut after being preferred to Martin Dubravka in goal following his move from Burnley – was well protected.
Despite making the former Lille centre-half, Sven Botman his £35m marquee summer signing, Howe opted to start Schär and Dan Burn at the heart of his defence, leaving Botman on the bench.
Schär proved his worth by finally breaking the impasse after Forest had only partially cleared yet another corner. When the ball fell to the Switzerland defender about 25 yards out, few expected Schär to test Henderson’s reflexes, but, after taking a a couple of steadying touches he unleashed an unstoppable right foot shot which scorched into the top corner, leaving the goalkeeper helpless.
With Guimarães confirming his cult status on Tyneside thanks to a series of stellar touches and through passes, Newcastle remained very much in the ascendancy yet the moment when Sam Surridge for once escaped Trippier and met Williams’s cross only to head it, wastefully, into the ground, highlighted why Howe was so keen for his side to score again.
Wilson duly obliged, dodging his marker adroitly to connect with Joelinton’s cross with the outside of his right foot before bending the ball beyond Henderson’s reach.