As Miguel Almiron walked out at St James’ Park for the very first time on Saturday, his adoring new fans duly spelt out their expectations of a long-awaited club-record signing.
‘Almiron. Quiero contar contigo.’
Roughly translated, the message from the Gallowgate End told the Paraguayan that ‘we are counting on you’. If his debut was any indication, then that faith has not been misplaced.
Against Huddersfield, Almiron was superb. The context of the opposition cannot be ignored, nor can the fact the Premier League’s bottom side, now without a win in 14, played more than three-quarters of the match a man short. But Newcastle fans need not let that detract from their excitement after their first encounter with their most expensive signing.
Coming from MLS, it was presumed that Almiron might take some time to settle on Tyneside and beyond the Newcastle goldfish bowl in the wider environment of the Premier League. But the lightning-fast 24-year-old immediately made himself at home, with only the absence of a goal denying him the dreamiest of debuts.
He went close, most notably with a deft chip which bounced off the base of the post after sprinting through on goal with barely 12 minutes played. Salomon Rondon’s rebound also struck the frame of the goal but rather than cause the home supporters to worry that this might be just another of those days, Almiron’s burst increased only anticipation rather than apprehension.
Even Almiron’s mistakes were positive. A heavy touch in the 20th minute enticed Tommy Smith into a tackle that he couldn’t win, resulting in a red card for the Huddersfield defender. It was the first time in five years for Newcastle – a run of 155 games – that a Premier League opponent had received their marching orders. That novelty only added to the buzz while the Terriers’ disadvantage created more space for Almiron and his new teammates.
Despite passing up a series of chances before a goalless break, the tension was barely allowed to build in the second half by the time Newcastle took their deserved lead through Rondon. Though Almiron didn’t play a direct role in the opener, he did provide a cross which eventually found Ayoze Perez, via DeAndre Yedlin and Rondon, with the Spanish playmaker lashing home to give Newcastle breathing space.
Though Almiron grabbed most of the attention, Perez and Rondon were also hugely impressive in a Newcastle side which finally seems to have a cutting edge. Benitez’s men had 29 shots on goal – their most in a single game since their Premier League promotion in 2017. They hit the target 12 times – four times more than their previous best – which offers some evidence of how impressive Jonas Lossl was in the Huddersfield goal.
Sean Longstaff continued to defy his inexperience in Newcastle’s midfield too and the academy graduate pushed Almiron hard for the man of the match award. The local lad has been massive bonus in recent weeks, but the Toon Army are banking on their expensive new import. The early signs suggest Almiron was a very smart investment.