When Ciaran Clark saw red for Newcastle, Eddie Howe’s game plan went up in smoke.
The manager had to make a big decision to make early on. In the 11th minute, he brought Federico Fernandez on in place of Ryan Fraser.
It was a change that made sense. Newcastle needed to replace Clark at the back, and Fraser was sadly the most dispensable forward.
But that wasn’t the only change Howe made in the 11th minute.
The Magpies began the game with a 4-4-2 formation, with Joelinton and Callum Wilson up top and Allan Saint-Maximin out on the left wing.
When Newcastle went down to 10 men, the obvious thing seemed to be putting Joelinton on the right flank and playing 4-4-1.
It would ensure we kept our two banks of four, while we still had counterattacking threats out wide.
But Howe went down a different, more ambitious route.
4-3-2 formation an inspired decision by Eddie Howe
Instead of going 4-4-1, Howe decided to stick with two up top. But that wasn’t the only tweak.
Joelinton dropped into midfield, while Saint-Maximin joined Wilson in attack.
It was an ambitious decision considering we were a man down.
But it still gave us a threat going forwards, allowing Saint-Maximin to drive through the middle of the pitch. It wasn’t the Frenchman’s best game, but he did the best he could given the circumstances.
He certainly would have been less impactful on the left, where he basically would have just had to defend.
Joelinton was a machine in the middle, winning tackles like the reincarnation of Mo Diame.
Despite being down to 10 men, we continued to pose a threat. Howe set us up in a way that still made us dangerous in a game that was must-win. Obviously that threat diminished after we scored, but that is to be expected.
When Clark was sent off, Howe could easily have panicked and gone into defensive mode. But he didn’t. He found a way of still making Newcastle a threat while tightening up a midfield that was suddenly a man light.
It’s this kind of ambition and attacking ideology that makes fans love Howe. We never would have seen this from Steve Bruce.
The previous manager was usually negative from minute one. Last season we saw him set up with a back five away to winless Sheffield United.
The difference between the two managers is seismic. That’s why, despite our horrendous position, there is still a small glimmer of hope that Howe can get us out of trouble.