Newcastle fans will know better than to celebrate anything prematurely, but a 1-0 win against fellow relegation rivals Huddersfield, courtesy of a Ayoze Perez 80th minute winner, will do much to calm the nerves as Newcastle United edge into a tricky run of seven final fixtures.
The win, Newcastle’s third in a row at home following the thumping of Southampton and a famous win against Manchester United, puts the Magpies 7 points above the drop zone and 10 points ahead of the tally we had this time two season ago.
There would be no surprises from Rafa in team selection with only the omission of Merino (apparently due to a knock) and the welcome inclusion of Slimani on the bench enough to raise any eyebrows.
STARTING XI: Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Ritchie (Atsu, 67), Shelvey, Diame (Hayden, 79), Kenedy, Perez, Gayle (Slimani, 75)
Truth be known, everyone in black and white would have been pretty furious had Newcastle not run out with three points this afternoon. 63% possession, 21 shots to Huddersfield’s 4, and an entirely dominant display other than a nervy few last moments as Huddersfield found themselves desperately chasing a point with only 10 minutes to play.
Newcastle should have been out of sight by half time. Kicking towards the Gallowgate in the first half they did everything but score with Dwight Gayle the chief culprit. Having already missed one decent chance the striker was played clean through following a wonderful spot and pass from Shelvey as the playmaker made the most of an opportunity to play a quick free kick. Gayle, having successfully chipped the keeper after finding himself one on one, would only see his shot drift wide of the keepers near post. Minutes later he would also volley the ball over the bar when well placed. He really should have hit the target with both.
With Shelvey also dragging a tricky shot from distance just inches wide it should have been game over by half time with Newcastle totally dominant.
Any thoughts that Huddersfield would wake up after the break were ill founded as the pattern of the second 45 largely matched the first. Seemingly content to sit and try and contain Newcastle, Huddersfield were either devoid of confidence and ideas or had been told to deliberately sit back and park the bus. Whatever, Newcastle were allowed to dictate the game until the point of the only goal.
Having just entered the fray, a cross was aimed for Slimani in the Huddersfield box but would only drop to the ever dangerous Kenedy in the area with the away defence looking confused and panicked. Kenedy showed the calm and composure we’ve come to expect in his short time at the club to wait and pick a pass in a crowded area to the unmarked Perez who did the rest and stabbed the ball home to make it 1-0 and score the only goal of the game.
No more the Newcastle deserved!
And despite a flurry of activity on the away team bench and a string of substitution there would be no way back from for Huddersfield who at least tried to force the issue late on.
A spacial mention for Diame, again, whilst an imperious display from Lejeune earns him our Man of the Match.
Another good day at the office for those in black in white, and with the finishing line now in sight we just need one big last push to ensure it’s all smiles at the end of the season.