Allan Saint-Maximin: Has French winger saved Newcastle from relegation?

Allan Saint-Maximin
Newcastle's win ratio drops to 15% when Allan Saint-Maximin (right) is missing

Less than a month ago Newcastle's season seemed set to implode when they were beaten convincingly by fellow Premier League strugglers Brighton.

A six-game winless run had left the team at its lowest ebb, a 10-point gap to the relegation zone reduced to three and Fulham threatening to reel them into the bottom three, all amid constant speculation about manager Steve Bruce's future.

But Saturday's exciting 3-2 win over West Ham meant a side that once looked doomed now seem increasingly likely to preserve their top-flight status. If they haven't already.

Now up to 15th in the table, Bruce's side have a nine-point cushion above the bottom three. So what has changed for Newcastle?

Saint-Maximin's return

The impact of Allan Saint-Maximin's return cannot be underestimated - his availability in recent weeks has coincided with the Magpies' improved form.

A combination of injury and illness has restricted the French winger to just 13 Premier League starts this term, but he has played a key role in Newcastle's return of seven points from three matches.

Saint-Maximin inspired a superb turnaround in a vital win at Burnley and underlined his importance with a wonderful first-half display against the Hammers, his driving run leading to an Issa Diop own goal which gave the Magpies the lead.

Newcastle's reliance on the 24-year-old is highlighted by their 37% win ratio when he has played, which is reduced to just 15% when he is unavailable.

Newcastle's record this season
With Saint-Maximin Premier League 2020-21Without Saint-Maximin
7Wins 2
25Goals For10
1.3Average goals for0.8
37%Win percentage15%
1.3Points per game0.8

With Saint-Maximin clearly capable of forming a fine attack alongside Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson, the key to Newcastle's success appears to be in keeping all three fit at the same time.

The trio have started just four top-flight matches together this term.

"We have not often had them," said Bruce. "It [the run leading to Diop's own goal] was terrific from Saint-Maximin.

"With the position we are in, if you take away your two or three best players then at the top end of the pitch it becomes a bit of a struggle and it has been. It is important that he stays well. He has a badly swollen ankle. He is a very, very good player."

'It comes with a government health warning'

When Bruce was appointed as Newcastle boss in July 2019, it felt like a fairytale appointment for the then 58-year-old, who was born in Northumberland and grew up as a Magpies fan.

A creditable 13th-placed finish in his first season was set against a backdrop of fan discontent over the club's ownership and Rafael Benitez's departure.

But he has had far from a smooth ride, particularly this term. Along with the prospect of a takeover, there has been a coronavirus outbreak, injuries to key players, leaks from the training ground and accusations of Bruce losing the dressing room, as well as bans for local journalists.

However, victory over the Champions League-chasing Hammers should help to change the mood at the club, even if only temporarily.

"It comes with a government health warning this job," Bruce said. "With this club there is always a sting in the tail. There always seems to be a drama.

"We had an awful time just after Christmas but very slowly we've done OK in the past few weeks. We've got better but that has come alongside the big players coming back. I want us to finish above where we finished last year.

"We have lost one of our past seven games and are starting to show that bit of consistency."

Is there any hope for Fulham and West Brom?

With Sheffield United's fate seemingly sealed, Newcastle's win against West Ham did little for Fulham and West Brom's slim hopes of survival.

The Baggies' recent renaissance has seen them win three of their past six games but with seven matches remaining, Sam Allardyce's side still have to overturn a hefty nine-point gap to catch Burnley and Brighton.

The Cottagers' deficit stands at seven points but they have lost four consecutive games since recording a famous win against Liverpool at Anfield in March and there is the added disadvantage of having played a game more than their rivals.

While Scott Parker's side can point to home games against Burnley and Newcastle (on the final day of the season) to come they currently have the joint-worst home record in the Premier League alongside the Blades and look likely to share the same fate.

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