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Newcastle will not look back on classic vs Luton fondly after familiar blunders

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Newcastle 4-4 Luton (Longstaff 7′, 23′, Trippier 67′, Barnes 73′ | Osho 21′, Barkley 40′ Morris P 59′, Adebayo 62′)

ST JAMES’ PARK – When Tom Bramall’s whistle called a halt to this St James’ Park slugfest, all 22 players seemed to sink to the turf through sheer exhaustion.

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It was a throwback, 3pm Premier League classic that would have enthralled the neutrals, enthused Luton fans and left Newcastle with a biting sense of regret. They have towering ambitions but are being grounded by cracks in the defensive fundamentals they did so well last season. They look so vulnerable at St James’ Park.

To compound Newcastle’s issues, Anthony Gordon left the stadium on crutches, hobbling after being withdrawn early

Luton were superb, fearless, full of threat and a constant thorn in the side of the home team. If the Premier League season has been dominated by talk of accountants, lawyers and independent commissions, Rob Edwards’ side are a reminder of what is so good about the division.

They were never going to be short of spirit of endeavour but few would have envisaged them becoming such a good side in such short order. Having battered Newcastle at Kenilworth Road with a physically dominant display, they illustrated a very different side of their game in this St James’ Park thriller.

Tactically spot on, Edwards’ side were inspired by Ross Barkley’s sparkling midfield masterclass and the pace and power of their wingers. Boy can they play.

Newcastle looked in equal parts vulnerable and vigorous. There was a zip about some of their forward play – not least in the two spells that saw them score quickfire goals – but real work to do at the back.

The left-back debate is going nowhere for Eddie Howe, who persisted with a struggling Dan Burn for far too long. Could you count calls from the Gallowgate for Tino Livramento to come on in the second half as murmurs of discontent?

That they were able to rescue the game from 4-2 down speaks volumes for the reserves of spirit in the side but they need to re-establish their sense of authority at St James’ Park. Luton’s visit is the first of a run of supposedly winnable home games but more poise is required to reap dividends from a generous fixture list.

The constraints of Financial Fair Play meant they were unable to source a game changing loan midfielder in January and it could end up costing them. Lewis Miley is sensational for his age, a playmaker who distributes the ball magnificently, carving open opposition teams with his speed of thought.

But Newcastle miss an enforcer, which is why Howe was so desperate for his paymasters to find a financial equation which would have brought him a number six. Too often their opponents were able to bypass the midfield with direct, crossfield balls.

But to do that you have to have a plan of your own and what a job Edwards has done to transform this Luton team into such a threat. Having sliced open Brighton in midweek, they left Newcastle will deep lacerations – especially down a left-hand side in which Burn laboured badly.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03: Elijah Adebayo of Luton Town celebrates scoring his team's fourth goal during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Luton Town at St. James Park on February 03, 2024 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
Few would have predicted Luton becoming so good, so quickly (Photo: Getty)

His tormentor-in-chief was Republic of Ireland winger Chiedozie Ogbene, a summer free transfer from Rotherham who possesses pace in abundance. If you want to know why Luton are making such a go of survival, that kind of smart recruitment speaks volumes.

It was a game where you could barely draw breath. Newcastle drew first blood with a wonderfully worked opener. Miley exhibited that precocious talent with a wonderfully flighted crossfield ball to Kieran Trippier who invited Sean Longstaff’s striker’s finish.

Luton’s riposte summed up their attitude throughout: immediate and emphatic as Gabriel Osho, left to roam in the penalty area by Longstaff, nodded past Martin Dubravka.

Longstaff restored the lead, pouncing after Thomas Kaminski parried Gordon’s drive but Luton, swarming at a Newcastle engine room with a Joelinton-shaped hole, felt inevitable.

Sure enough Barkley, brilliant throughout, marched through midfield space to set up a move that he finished off after an uncharacteristic Dubravka spill.

Would the home side heed the warning signs? Not quite.

Burn’s foul on Ogbene was 59 minutes in the making, his two pulls at the winger’s shirt a clumsy attempt to check the winger’s momentum. VAR intervened to award the spot kick that Charlton Morris rolled home. Elijah Adebayo then added an implausible fourth after another superb counter.

Howe, belatedly, made changes, bringing Livramento and Harvey Barnes on. It awoke his team as an attacking force again and Kieran Trippier’s angled volley began the comeback. Barnes’ smart finish drew the teams level but the grandstand finish did not arrive. There are still big questions for this Newcastle side to answer.

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