Newcastle United finally kick started their season with an impressive 3-0 victory over bottom of the table West Ham in front of a sell out St James Park this afternoon.
Goals for Joselu, Clark and Mitrovic capped a find team display that saw several players stand out, none more so than on-loan Spaniard Merino and flying Scotsman Ritchie in a fantastic team display with will ease the tension for many at Newcastle United as the International break starts and the transfer window closes.
West Ham had started the game with surprising confidence, passing and keeping the ball like a team the belied their starting position at the foot of the table on goal difference going into the game. In fact they would finish the game with 63% possession, not that it would feel like that to the several thousand travelling fans who would see their side slump to a third consecutive defeat.
STARTING XI: Elliot, Manquillo, Lascelles, Clark, Mbemba, Merino, Hayden (Diame 82), Ritchie (Murphy, 88), Perez, Atsu, Joselu (Mitrovic, 72)
For as the first half trundles through the opening quarter of an hour the pattern for Newcastle was clear. Compact, as always. Pressure, from he front.
Newcastle were hunting in packs. Something that was obviously deliberate as the Hammers, starting with the likes of Zabaleta, Collins and Noble hardly looked the most mobile of units.
And it would be that pack mentality that would lead to the first goal. The tireless Matt Ritchie seizing on a slight slip and poor touch from young defender Declan Rice would turn over possession leading to the first goal as the ball would break to Merino who’s beautifully weighted pass would find Atsu who in turn would cut back to Joselu to score with defenders closing around him.
His goal, in front of the Gallowgate, was met with jubilation and relief in equal measure for players and fans alike. Joselu in particular looked elated to have scored on his first start at St James Park, and why not!
The game had now settled into just the pattern that Rafa would have been hoping for. The Hammers being allowed no time at the back were continually forced to hit the ball long due to the pressure and even when they did break with Ayew looking their most likely game changer, the danger would be snuffed out as the impressive Newcastle back line held firm.
Into the second half and it would be the closing down energy and desire from those in black and white that would make the difference once more. Ritchie again this instigator as his never say die attitude would win him the ball back in the West Ham left back position allowing the Scotsman to cross to an unmarked Clark who’s header would go in off Hart’s right hand post with the England keeper stranded. 2-0.
West Ham now looked beaten and Mitrovic, on for an exhausted Joselu, could have and then did make it 3-0. First he would race clear only to find Hart equal to his fierce shot. The second time he got clear, this time from a lovely reverse pass by Perez, he would make no mistake, this time rounding the keeper to tap into an empty net.
By the time Mitro had scored his goal he could, and probably should, have been off the pitch for what appeared to be an off the ball elbow on Lanzini.
It was not to say that West Ham had created nothing of their own either. Their best chance coming at 1-0 when a drive from distance was palmed into the path of Hernandez who’s instinctive follow up was cleared off the line by the backtracking Clark.
What on the black and white side of the pitch it was hard to pick a man of the match with Merino more than making up for Shelvey’s absence, Hayden being a rock in midfield and even Mbemba playing really was as an emergency left back. The prize probably goes to Ritchie though. Both tireless and possessing that little bit of quality in the final third that helped turn the game.
For Benitez the prospect of going into the International break pushing towards mid table and with a morale boosting win for him and his players, sending the Geordie faithful home happy. For West Ham and Slaven Bilic the exact opposite, with rumours this evening of their board even considering an approach for Rafa as an early season replacement.
After the game Rafa paid tribute to the fans once more for their unwavering support of the team. Hell, why should it be any other way, we’re only 3 league game into what was always going to be a long and tough season. The Newcastle boss also talked about the possibility of some new faces too. Let’s see!