Newcastle dropped to the bottom of the Premier League after an entertaining draw with Brentford, with Eddie Howe absent for his first game in charge.
The new head coach was forced to watch the game from his hotel room after testing positive for coronavirus on Friday, with assistant Jason Tindall taking charge from the sidelines.
But, as he settles into his new role a month after the club’s Saudi Arabian-backed takeover, he will have seen a game to give him room for encouragement while also illustrating the size of his task to keep Newcastle in the top flight.
With the home fans signing Howe’s name from the first minute, Newcastle took an early lead when Jamaal Lascelles nodded in from Matt Ritchie’s corner.
But the lead only lasted 75 seconds as Ivan Toney took advantage of Karl Darlow’s mistake to fire in low against his former employers and celebrate in front of the Gallowgate End.
The 25-year-old, who was sold by Newcastle to Peterborough in 2018 after several loan spells, was twice close to scoring again, being caught slightly offside and then having a goalbound shot cleared off the line by Fabian Schar.
But Thomas Frank’s impressive team took the lead after 31 minutes when Sergi Canos’ back-post cross found fellow wing-back Rico Henry, who stabbed a shot past Darlow.
Eight minutes later, Joelinton brought the scores level again, curling into the bottom corner following the lively Allan Saint-Maximin’s cross, for his first goal of the season.
In a thrilling encounter, Brentford went ahead once more when substitute Frank Onyeka’s shot was deflected past Darlow via Lascelles, but Saint-Maximin rescued a point when he crashed in at the back post following a flowing move.
Despite the draw, Newcastle continued their worst start to a league campaign, falling to 20th after Norwich earned their second win of the season, while Thomas Frank’s Brentford ended a run of four top-flight defeats.
There has been no shortage of drama at Newcastle since October’s takeover, but following Howe’s appointment 12 days ago, it appeared as if things had settled down over the international break – with the new head coach using the time to influence the squad with his methods.
That was until Friday night, where a positive coronavirus test meant he would manage his first game from his hotel room, with assistant Tindall coaching from the sidelines as Howe relayed messages to his staff via the phone.
As starts to Premier League managerial reigns go, it was unique, but perhaps fitting for a club, where entertainment and gallows humour is never in short supply.
What Howe will have seen from his room is symptomatic of Newcastle’s season, which has left them mired in the bottom three: They were exciting in attack, but poor in defence.
He had promised to offer the type of football that would “do the fans and city proud”, and as Saint-Maximin dazzled up front, Jonjo Shelvey sprayed passes to both wings and Joelinton and Joe Willock provided trickery in midfield, the supporters revelled in the type of “front-foot” football they felt was missing under former manager Steve Bruce.
There appeared to be an increase in intensity to Newcastle’s play too as Tindall encouraged the hosts to press in Brentford’s half.
But as the impressive Toney and Bryan Mbeumo cut through the hosts’ defence, it showed that there is plenty to do to make Newcastle a more solid outfit.
Toney was a menace at times, testing a back three of Lascelles, Ciaran Clark and Schar in Newcastle’s 3-4-3 set-up, and he could have had a hat-trick.
That changed in the second half as Newcastle tried to tighten up.
But once they went behind to Lascelles’ own goal, Tindall, or perhaps it was Howe, made a double substitution, which altered the formation and proved crucial.
Sean Longstaff replaced Willock in midfield, while Ryan Fraser came on and provided a delightful cross from Newcastle’s best move to provide Saint-Maximin with a thumping finish
With the crowd in raptures, there was still time to get a winner but after another quick break, and the goal at his mercy, Joelinton slipped to massive groans all around St James’ Park.
It was a sign that although the Howe revolution has begun, there are many issues still to resolve as the team remains five points from safety.