In what was a competitive, and at time fiercely contested, last friendly of the season Newcastle United would run out comfortable 2-0 winners over Hellas Verona.
STARTING XI: Elliot (Darlow, 64), Manquillo (Gamez, 64), Clark (Lascelles, 64), Lejeune (Mbemba, 64), Dummett (Merino, 64), Shelvey (Diame, 64), Hayden, Atsu (Murphy, 64), Perez (de Jong, 72), Ritchie, Mitrovic (Aarons, 64)
The visitors started well enough, barely giving Newcastle a touch of the ball in the first 5 minutes. Indeed it would be with the first real passage of possession that would see the home side go ahead.
Shelvey would be the architect in midfield, having a great game as one of the two holding midfielders and as captain for the day. His ball wide would find the overlapping Manquillo who’s fine run and cross would be expertly turned in by Ayoze Perez with just 5 minutes on the clock.
What was already clear by that point was the planned ‘counter-attacking’ football we’d been told to expect wasn’t really the plan at all for the day. Newcastle were pressing high at every opportunity, something that will be interesting to see if repeated next weekend against much stronger opposition.
Newcastle would only need to wait 10 more minutes to be two in front, this time a defence splitting ball would be seized upon by Astu who would beat the onrushing keeping with a lovely dink to make it two nil after just 15 minutes.
Either side of the second goal Mitrovic could and probably have scored himself, first heading wide from a corner and then somehow only managing to see his header deflected wide from point blank range when he really should have tucked home.
Newcastle were by this point well in control of the game and forcing Verona into a number of mistakes whilst looking composed themselves in dealing with everything the Italian side, promoted back to the top flight of their own league last season, could throw at them.
What was lovely to see as the first half moved on was the willingness of Newcastle’s wide men, in particular Atsu, to run at the Verona defence. Something you have to feel will be much needed next season if we are not going to dominate possession for long spells.
There was even a chance for Shelvey to try an effort from 10 yards inside his own half just before the break after spotting the keeper well off his line, but whilst on target the ball would fall short and safely to the Verona keeper.
In the second half more great work down the left from Atsu would see Verona need to scoop one clear from underneath their crossbar after a fine run and cross from the Newcastle winger.
On 70 minutes Ritchie would find himself with a yard to set a fierce drive towards the Verona goal only to see Nicolas equal to it and turn the effort behind for a corner.
Ritchie would be denied again on 75 minutes when his free kick, following a foul in the ‘D’ on Murphy, would once more be brilliantly saved onto the post and wide.
Newcastle would lose their shape a little with so many changes whist the visitors too would have a very different look to them for most of the second period.
With just a couple of minutes left it should have been 3-0 when Aarons, stretching to meet a Murphy cross, could only head wide.
Rafa had commented before the game that he expected a few to leave and hopefully some new faces in the squad too, and with Dwight Gayle missing with a slight strain again and missing more valuable pre-season minutes, we certainly still seem light for the coming campaign in a couple of areas.
Pre-season done then - and so it begins…