Harvey Barnes is refusing to give up on Newcastle’s quest for a second successive top-four finish after drawing a line under his injury misery.
The 26-year-old had not kicked a ball in anger since September 24 after damaging a toe in the Magpies’ 8-0 Premier League win at Sheffield United just seven appearances into his career on Tyneside following a £38million summer switch from Leicester.
There were eight goals once again on his return, but thanks to his intervention they were shared evenly as Eddie Howe’s men, who had led 1-0 and 2-1, fought back from 4-2 down to snatch a 4-4 draw courtesy of his equaliser on a remarkable afternoon at St James’ Park.
Asked afterwards if Newcastle – currently 13 points off fourth – could still make a push for the Champions League places, Barnes said: “This team is capable of great things, as we showed last year.
“We have shown it in spells this year too. When we are on top of our game, we can go on a great run and climb the table quickly.”
The Magpies, who ended a run of four successive Premier League defeats with a 3-1 win at in-form Aston Villa in midweek, looked to be on their way to another when Sean Longstaff fired them ahead and then after Gabriel Osho had levelled, restored their advantage.
However, with wide man Chiedozie Ogbene tormenting full-back Dan Burn from the off, the lead was never comfortable.
Ross Barkley made it 2-2 before the break, and Carlton Morris’ twice-taken penalty and a fourth from Elijah Adebayo had the Hatters in dreamland with 62 minutes played.
Howe chose to introduce Barnes in the aftermath and after Kieran Trippier had reduced the deficit, it was he who ultimately rescued a point with 17 minutes remaining as late flurries at both ends came to nothing.
Asked what his instructions had been, Barnes said: “I was just told to go out and make an impact. I’ve been out that long.
“This has been my toughest period in football, how long I’ve been out. Signing for a new club and being hit with injury is a hard thing. I have been working hard.
“It was great to get a goal, but disappointing not to get three points.”
Barnes’ return, along with that of striker Callum Wilson, provided Howe with a welcome boost, but Anthony Gordon’s half-time departure with an ankle injury and the concession of 10 goals in his side’s last three home games provided further food for thought.
Howe said: “The last few games here have been far from ideal defensively and it’s certainly something that we’ll go away and look at and try to find answers to.”
If Howe’s emotions were mixed, so too were those of opposite number Rob Edwards, whose disappointment at not hanging on to the lead was tempered by his pride in the performance.
Edwards said: “It’s nice to be able to come to a huge ground like this, a huge football club, a team that’s been competing in the Champions League this year, a team that’s competing to get in the Champions League again this year and take the game to them.
“That’s pleasing and that’s good to see, but it doesn’t surprise me. We’ve been showing it now for quite a while.”