Enjoy your trip to Burton they said.
Newcastle kept up their relentless push in pursuit of promotion with a hard fought win away at Burton Albion this afternoon.
Having been on road most of the week following a midweek trip to Wigan, and with a 9 day break in sight due to our next fixture not being until Boxing Day, this game presented the opportunity for Newcastle to be top of the pile at Christmas.
In truth the game would be one that Newcastle would be glad to get out of with all three points with Burton giving everything in front of a sell out crowd of 6,665. Burton would in fact dominate throughout both in terms of possession and chances, though not in the most telling stat. Goals.
Newcastle would once more take an early lead in a match. And once more it would be our talisman, Dwight Gayle, who would get the goal. An instinctive pass form Shelvey would set Ritchie away on the Newcastle left, and after the Burton right back dived in only to miss the ball, Ritchie would be allowed to race to the edge of the Burton box before crossing for Gayle who’s exquisite and deft back heal would leave keeper and defenders alike wondering how on earth the ball was nestling in the back of their net. A beautiful goal.
Newcastle could, and perhaps should, have already been 1-0 before the Gayle goal. A Shelvey special from well inside his own half would pick our Atsu, who had been given only his 5th start of the season by boss Rafa Benitez. But with only McLaughlin to beat in the Burton goal our lad seemed to freeze when rushing into the Burton box allowing the keeper to smother at Atsu’s feet.
And when Dyer was to score just 5 minutes after the Newcastle goal to make it 1-1 you would have to say they deserved it. Some great work down their right wing resulted in Irvine’s low cross fired through Newcastle’s box to find the unmarked Burton nr 11 to tap in unmarked. You’d expect Rafa to be having a word with both Yedlin and more specifically Atsu for allowing Dyer that much space in our box. Certainly not the Rafa way.
Any blushes would be spared however, when on 34 minutes an in form Diame would turn his man brilliantly on the edge of the box and cooly slot home from the edge of the box. After quite publicly questioning his own form just over a week ago our Senegalese man has certainly shown us what he is capable of over the last 3 games. Arguably man of the match in two of those appearances he has also two goals to his name in those three and looking for more like the player we thought we had bought.
Newcastle would now sit in their usual compact shape, happy to let the hosts have the ball for long periods. And moving into the second half there certainly seemed to be a mood of ‘keep what we have’ from the Newcastle lads.
And despite a couple of decent chances for Burton towards the end of the game, and almost one uncustomary gift from Darlow who dropped what was a tame shot almost into the path of a Burton striker, the Mags would see out the game 2-1.
A great feeling to be top of the league then at Christmas. And although most of the other teams below us also won Newcastle do maintain their 1 point lead over Brighton in second but more tellingly a 9 point lead over 3rd placed Reading.
After the game Rafa wished all the NUFC fans a ‘Merry Christmas looking at the league table’. Don’t worry Rafa, we will have a very Merry one indeed.