Joe Willock now a far better player than when he couldn’t stop scoring for Newcastle United

Joe Willock now a far better player than when he couldn’t stop scoring for Newcastle United

Joe Willock made an instant impression on Newcastle United fans.

Arriving in the January transfer window on loan in 2021, the Arsenal midfielder made his debut on 6 February 2021.

Scoring after only 16 minutes against Southampton, Joe Willock set NUFC on their way to a 3-2 win at St James’ Park. Not a bad debut.

We had to wait until 4 April 2021 for the next goal from the loan midfielder, by that point Steve Bruce had dropped him. Joe Willock introduced on 79 minutes and getting an 85th minute equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Spurs.

This became something of a habit, saving Steve Bruce’s bacon.

Although it took Joe Willock scoring from the bench in three successive Premier League matches before Bruce finally put him back in the team.

An astonishing run continued, the final seven Premier League games of that 2020/21 Premier League season, whether as a starter or from the bench, Joe Willock scored in all seven of them.

The genius of Steve Bruce having unlocked his potential…or maybe not.

Joe Willock scored eight goals in that loan period, seven of them in those seven games in a row. In total he started eleven NUFC matches and was sub in another three, his eight goals in 980 minutes equated to an average of a goal every 122 minutes.

However, it was going to be another nine months and playing under another Newcastle United manager, before Joe Willock would score in the Premier League again.

Joe Willock was the only player Mike Ashley allowed to be signed in his final two transfer windows, on loan in January 2021 and then a permanent deal in summer 2021.

However, I wasn’t totally convinced, his initial form after the permanent deal wasn’t great and indeed, even after Eddie Howe arrived, whilst Joe Willock did improve to an extent, but for almost the whole of last season I don’t think the midfielder was great.

I thought his general play during the loan spell hadn’t been anything much to talk about and that was continuing. The difference was though, now without goals.

In reality, for me, that loan spell was just one of those things in terms of the goals. The ball just appeared to be magnetically drawn to him, every run into the box was right place right time. The stats showed that Joe Willock scored his eight goals when on loan, from only seventeen shots. That is mad.

It was never going to continue like that.

Since then, since signed permanently, Joe Willock has added another four Premier League goals in 54 appearances (46 starts, eight as a sub). Having scored seven goals in such quick succession in the loan spell, ironically his four goals these latest two seasons have come in bursts as well. In February 2022 it was goals in a week in the draw at West Ham and win at Brentford. In November 2022 it was then two goals in a week in the wins over Southampton and Chelsea directly before the Qatar World Cup.

Needless to say, for an attacking all round midfielder, four goals in 54 PL appearances is not anything to shout about.

However, what is to be shouted about, is the ever improving Joe Willock all round game.

For me, the ‘wow’ moment that really convinced me for the first time, was on 17 April 2022.

Coming back from 1-0 down, Bruno had equalised first half against Leicester but we were in the fifth minute of added time with the final whistle coming any time. Matt Targett did superb to win the ball right next to his own box, turn and pass to Joe Willock. The midfielder a 69th minute sub for Chris Wood, then got the ball and with a great bit of skill knocked it past his opponent on the halfway line, then showed such pace and determination. Hello, what’s this?!!

Accelerating right up to the Foxes box, Joe Willock played the ball across with his weaker left foot and via a deflection met the head of Bruno, his diving header winning the game and SJP erupting!

This season, Joe Willock has been excellent.

I can’t believe the player that he has turned into under Eddie Howe.

It is really coming together for him and his pace, energy, intelligence, mobility getting all over the pitch, he is now becoming a complete midfield player.

Joe Willock hadn’t managed a single assist for Newcastle United in the Premier League until 1 October 2022 (his pass against Leicester took a deflection and so doesn’t count as an assist), creating two goals in the 4-1 win at Fulham.

I haven’t really seen it even mentioned BUT Willock’s third and fourth NUFC Premier League assists came within a week as well, the very last week of most recent Newcastle United action!

Playing in Almiron for the winner against Wolves and that superb cross for Isak to score the vital equaliser just before half-time against Forest.

He is now popping up all over the place and making the difference, I think very shortly we will be seeing Joe Willock regularly contributing assists AND goals, on top of excellent all round performances.

How far he can go is down to the player himself. He has the pace, ability and physique to do it all.

Joe Willock to score or make the winner against Man U on Sunday?

I wouldn’t bet against it.

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