Despite the magnitude of Newcastle’s biggest win over Chelsea in almost half a century, it was the performance of 17-year-old Lewis Miley which drew almost as many column inches and interview questions as Saturday’s victory itself.
Already the 2023 winner of the annual ‘Wor Jackie’ award for Newcastle’s best young player, this was his biggest acid test – his first Premier League start at St James’ Park against a resurgent Blues side who had matched Manchester City in their previous game.
It took only 13 minutes for the teenager to begin bringing them down to earth. A fine disguised through-ball threaded Alexander Isak into space in the area, and the Swedish forward hit the back of the net. The perfect start to a performance which would end with a personal standing ovation when he was substituted late on.
By that time, he had run Chelsea’s expensive midfield ragged. A Rolls-Royce alongside the physical presence of Joelinton and Bruno Guimaraes in midfield. It left a clear impression.
“Lewis Miley is a star – he is massive,” Guimaraes told reporters after the game. “When I was 17, sorry to use the word but I was s***.”
Miley kept up the contrast with his team-mate’s tearaway years in Paris on Tuesday, completing his first 90 minutes in a Newcastle shirt in what would and should have been, bar a widely condemned late VAR intervention, a historic Champions League win in the French capital.
Though he did not register another assist at the Parc des Princes he could still claim a hand in Newcastle’s goal, his run drawing Lucas Hernandez away from Miguel Almiron, whose shot was spilled to Isak for the opener.
His performance was so assured, again, that Newcastle’s local newspaper dedicated an entire article to ask why his rating in L’Equipe was lower than PSG forward Ousmane Dembele, a player who set Barcelona back more than £100m six years ago.
Miley will not be worth that for a while, but even if the injured Sean Longstaff is fit to face Manchester United on Saturday night, he will not reclaim his shirt with the same ease of even a week ago.
Since then, the Durham-born teenager has been just as undaunted by claiming his fellow academy graduate’s spot as he was by facing Enzo Fernandez or Cole Palmer last weekend.
In that game, he was given more licence to roam than his first Premier League start, a 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth before the international break, and he shone. Perhaps the early assist settled him, but the calmness with which he uses the ball suggests his composure is entirely natural.
Unafraid of taking the ball in tight spaces and with the eye for a pass to match, he held off Fernandez to find Jamal Lascelles before pinging a first-time 30-yard ball into Isak in the same move less than five minutes in. It set the tone and showcased what he was about. Not that Eddie Howe needed telling.
The assist for Isak’s opener eight minutes later came amid a cacophony of calls to shoot from the stands, but the youngster ignored the thought of his name in lights in search of a broader reward.
“That pass represents him,” said Howe. “To have that composure in that moment, when you’re so young and on your home debut.
“He’s going to be a key player for us and in the next few weeks he will have to step up and do what we know he can do.”
Howe’s recent comments and actions have watered down previous concerns over his reluctance to bed in youth, which perhaps makes the decision to avoid sending Miley out on loan this summer after an impressive pre-season all the more significant.
Certainly, though it could be argued that Howe’s hand was forced to start him at Bournemouth before the international break, then against Chelsea on Saturday, plenty expected him to knock square pegs in round holes instead of putting his faith in any teenager.
This is no ordinary teenager. Even when he signed his first professional deal in May, the normally understated Howe could not resist hinting at his potential.
“I only promote players who are good enough to play in the Premier League,” he said. “He’s got an amazing chance.”
By the time it got to Tuesday’s trip to Paris, he was one of the first names on the team sheet.
I can only promote players through the academy that I feel are good enough to play in the Premier League. Lewis has got an amazing chance to do that. At his age, he’s got all the attributes.
It’s been quite a few weeks for a player who already held the title of Newcastle’s youngest-ever Premier League player when he made his debut, also against Chelsea, in May.
Back then, he almost scored a late winner in a 15-minute cameo but hit the bar from the edge of the box. Perhaps he learned from that on Saturday, teeing up Isak from an almost identical position.
That enthusiasm to improve has long impressed Howe, who even pulled him out of the England U17 European Championships squad in May before he had made his senior debut. “There’s huge growth in every area of his game,” he said on Saturday. “He doesn’t behave like the average 17-year-old.”
Miley is one of those players who creates a buzz around a fanbase, and his achievements in the Newcastle academy were well known on Tyneside long before his debut.
Few clubs embrace their own like Newcastle, as the statues of Jackie Milburn, Sir Bobby Robson and Alan Shearer outside St James’ Park attest. But creating a buzz is one thing, living up to it is quite another.
He will get his latest chance to do exactly that if he emerges with yet more credit from Saturday’s game against Man Utd, which he looks certain to start.
Even at this stage, it would surprise nobody if he ends up stealing more headlines from the result for the second week in a row.