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Reborn Newcastle closing in on European place

Newcastle United's Alexander Isak celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal at Burnley

As Newcastle United’s supporters serenaded their triumphant players with chants of “Europe again, Europe again ole ole ole…” the future is once again looking bright on Tyneside.

This thrashing of Burnley, which could easily have matched the eight goals they put past Sheffield United back in September, moved Newcastle above Manchester United into sixth and just four points behind a faltering and stumbling Tottenham in fifth.

Some sort of European football will surely be returning to St James’ Park again next season. Given their extensive injury problems, inability to strengthen their squad in January because of profit and sustainability rules and the loss of marquee summer signing Sandro Tonali to a 10-month ban, it would be a huge achievement for manager Eddie Howe.

After the first real test of faith in the Englishman came during a difficult winter, when they were knocked out of the Champions League, the Carabao Cup and briefly slipped down to 10nth, Newcastle have been reborn in the spring, winning five out of the last seven, with just one defeat, since the March international break.

They are playing some thrilling attacking football in the process and the players have their swagger back. No Newcastle team – including Kevin Keegan’s‘Entertainers’ – have scored more goals than Howe’s side in a 38-game Premier League campaign.

This is a team who play with a sense of adventure, with a licence to kill off teams with the power of their attacking players. But it was two of their young defenders who stepped into the spotlight at Turf Moor.

When a team wins 4-1 away from home, it is not usual to focus on two full-backs but the performances of Tino Livramento and Lewis Hall are worth highlighting because this is precisely why they were signed.

Newcastle spent a combined total of £60 million on the pair last summer, a decision which left many scratching their heads given they already had England international Kieran Trippier at right-back and two left-backs on the books. Questions were asked in an accusatorial tone.

It was a lot of money to invest in two players who were not likely, or expected, to be first choice in their positions, especially when there were other areas of need.

Newcastle, though, insisted they had to build for the future, rather than just the present, and against Burnley, their young full-back pair were superb.

“I believed in the players when we signed them,” said Howe, who praised all his players for the way they have pushed for a European spot with a late-season charge. “I believed in their long-term potential.

“The difficulty is you have Kieran Trippier and other players in those positions already, but we had to invest in some young players in the hope they would come through and challenge them. They are two outstanding talents and that showed today. They gave us real energy and quality and I’m delighted with them both.”

It is a piece of business that now looks incredibly smart. It means Newcastle already look stronger going into next season, even before the summer transfer window opens, with Hall and Livramento settled into the squad and full versed on Howe’s needs. They will have a far more prominent role next term which is encouraging in itself, but especially when you also factor in the return of Italy international Tonali in midfield too.

At the age of 21, Livramento had already shown plenty of promise on the right; he has done well against far better sides than Burnley in his first season in black and white and did so when he was at Southampton too.

Newcastle United's Callum Wilson celebrates scoring their first goal
Callum Wilson celebrates putting Newcastle ahead - Reuters/Phil Noble

And it was his skilful piece of play, inside his own half, that turned this game in Newcastle’s favour. Burnley had been the better side for the first 15 minutes. Newcastle were struggling, but with a spin a turn, Livramento was away and the visitors were countering with menace. Burnley could not recover. Seconds later, Callum Wilson had tapped home the first goal of the game after Alexander Isak’s initial effort had been saved.

The second goal owed just as much to Hall, who made a vital interception, also deep inside his own half, before driving forward and hitting a pinpoint crossfield pass to Wilson. Newcastle scored again two passes later.

Hall and Livramento were a threat all afternoon. Crucially, they were just as diligent and strong in defence. That is where they have really shown signs of growth. They have learned on the training ground and Newcastle are now reaping the rewards.

Howe has taken his time in starting them both deliberately. It is not too long ago that he implied he could not trust Hall to start games at this level, but in the last few weeks, the former Chelsea youngster has looked older, stronger and wiser. He looks like a Newcastle player – just as Livramento has done for a while – for years to come.

The future really does look bright.

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