The Premier League is well and truly back. We were treated to the Brentford fairytale on Friday night, and dominating displays by Manchester United and Liverpool on Saturday. But on Sunday we were treated to a thrilling end-to-end spectacle as West Ham United defeated Newcastle United 4-2 at St James’ Park.
Everything about it was spine-tingling. Both sets of supporters were in fine voice at St James’, and while it has been said too many times already, this is what the beautiful game has missed for just shy of 18 months. Two fan bases who have had difficult relationships with their clubs in recent times might not have arrived at the ground expecting too much, but the rollercoaster emotions will have reminded them both of everything they have been without for too long.
The Newcastle supporters were buoyed just before kick-off as their new £25million man Joe Willock stepped on to the turf to say his first hellos to the Magpies after an exquisite loan spell in the second half of last season, a spell only matched by the success of Hammers loanee Jesse Lingard in that same period. However, as of yet, there is no return to West Ham on the cards for the 28-year-old.
After such a long wait to be back in a packed-out stadium, the supporters were treated to a classic attacking encounter between the two sides, making for enthralling viewing for the neutrals as well as those who were finally back at the match. It is games like we were so desperate to see return during the long months locked down at home.
Regardless of it being the first weekend of the season, you had two sides attacking like their lives depended on it, and with the roars of the crowd, the genuine kind, it has made the return of the Premier League something to truly savour. It had the ebb and flow of the football, the quips of the crowd – we’re looking at you, West Ham’s Harry Potter fans – and just the kind of atmosphere the English top-flight has long been associated with.
The game got off to a surprisingly fast start as the dazzling quick feet of Allan Saint-Maximin whipped a ball across and it was headed home by the Toon’s new number nine Callum Wilson. It didn’t take long for West Ham to conjure an equaliser as Aaron Cresswell ended his 58-game goal drought in the Premier League to pull the Hammers level. The home side managed to reassert their lead just before the interval as Matt Ritchie’s floated ball to the back post was guided in by the head of Jacob Murphy.
But it was the visitors who turned the match up a gear in the second half as Michail Antonio assisted Said Benrahma to level the score for a second time. David Moyes’ side then took the lead for the first time in the match when Tomas Soucek pounced after Antonio had a penalty saved by Freddie Woodman before Antonio scored minutes later to take the game away from Steve Bruce’s side.
The Premier League has been back for a couple of days, but this felt like the first real barn-burner since fans have returned. And boy, does it feel good that games like this are back in the cauldrons they deserve. More of this, please.