Newcastle United put the disappointment of the draw against Brighton with a massive winning over fellow strugglers Stoke. A 1-0 and thoroughly deserved win for Rafa’s men would follow a great and fighting display topped off with a Murphy run and Perez finish. A HUGE 3 points.
More changes over this busy festive period for this one as Manquillo, Murphy, Shelvey, Diame and Perez all return to the starting line up that would revert back to the one up top formation so utilised by Benitez over the last couple of seasons.
STARTING XI: Darlow, Yedlin, Clark, Lascelles, Manquillo, Murphy (Dummett, 82), Shelvey, Diame, Atsu (Gayle, 64), Ritchie, Perez (Hayden, 90)
Stoke, hoping to avoid a double of the worst kind, started with the dangerous Shaqiri (goalscorer at St James Park) whilst there was also a rare starting birth for Peter Crouch.
A decent start for Newcastle would see them force a couple of early chances for Perez and twice for Atsu, although nothing that would trouble Butland in the Stoke goal.
With 15 minutes gone Atsu would get a shot on target and really should have done more than hitting the shot straight at the Stoke keeper. A bright start at least from the Magpies who looked the more dangerous in the early stages.
Only two teams have conceded more than the 46 Stoke have let in at this stage in any Premier League season, a stat that underlined the opportunity Newcastle had to get a result at the Bet 365 stadium.
On the half hour Newcastle missed one of the easiest of chances you’ll ever see in a football match this or any season. A cross from Ritchie from a corner, a flick from Perez, a then a side foot from Clark, on his favoured left, form just two yards out is hit high and wide. Unbelievable. WHAT A MISS!
The rest of the half would be pretty much dominated by the away side with Rafa no doubt incredibly frustrated as the players trudged in at the break.
No changes at half time by either side as Stoke would start the brighter of the two sides in the second half. Not that this seemed to bother the magnificent 3,200 travelling fans who did nothing but sing Rafa’s name repeatedly as the half continued.
Darlow would be celled into action early in the half making a good save from a Shaqiri shot which would seem to shake Newcastle into action.
Atsu would be replaced with 25 minutes on the clock by Gayle having looked lively throughout. Could Gayle provide the cutting edge that was so desperately missing thus far.
For the third game in a row Gayle would then have claims for a penally. This one you would have to say looked the best shout of all of those of late when Zouma put hands on the Newcastle number 9 before his fall in the box. We’ve certainly seen those given this season. Perhaps his recent antics have gone before him?!
A fantastic run from Murphy, picking the ball up in his own half way before running unchallenged to the edge of the Stoke box wide right, the resultant cross finding Perez who’s sublime finish gives Newcastle United a well deserved lead on 75 minutes.
Would Newcastle now sit back, surely not with Stoke this rattled. Although the game was now probably too open for the United boss’ liking and when Darlow was called into action again it was time for a change of personal end formation with Dummett introduced into a system now containing 3 centre halves.
Newcastle sitting deeper and deeper now as they desperately attempted to hold onto their lead.
And Stoke should have been level with just 5 minutes left, a header from Crouch saved brilliantly by Crouch would then see the keeper called into action again before the ball was scrambled clear for a corner. A charmed life indeed.
4 minutes of injury time is what the Magpies had to try and survive as Stoke pressed with corner after corner.
There would still be time for Gayle and Hayden to have late chances to make the points safe but in the end the clock ran down to 0 and Rafa and his travelling faithful could celebrate.
A MASSIVE 3 POINTS, on SO many levels.
On wider matters the transfer window is now open today. What we have seen yet again from today’s performance is that Newcastle really are missing a cutting edge. As Rafa says, ‘that’s what £5m get you’. Quite whether he will have any more than that to spend this window remains to be seen, especially with buy out talk supposedly continuing.
No place, even on the bench, for Mitrovic as his time at the club surely seems to be up at the club. He along with the likes of Colback and Saivet are surely on the list of those Rafa would like to move on to create headroom for wages and additional transfer funds.
A huge month coming up both on and off the pitch.