Newcastle United 3-0 Swansea
Hope! On a day that could have seen Newcastle all but relegated if results went against them the footballing gods (if there is such a thing) looked down on the Toon Army and gave Rafa a birthday to remember.
His first three points as United manager in this his fifth game was the only result that would do today. And that's exactly what we got.
After a humiliation last weekend against a decent Southampton side the gaffa said he’d make the changes required to get the right result and changes were indeed delivered as the team was announced at 2pm.
STARTING XI: Darlow, Anita, Mbemba, Lascelles, Dummett, Tiote (Shelvey), Colback, Townsend, Sissoko, Wijnaldum (Perez), Cisse (Mitrovic)
Mbemba and the vocal Lascelles were flanked by fit again Dummett at left back and Anita filling in for the ‘mysterious case of Janmaat’ at right back. News this week that Colo, Taylor and Janmaat are all carrying injuries may, in some cases, only be part of the tale.
And whilst Cisse was preferred to the in form Mitrovic up front perhaps the biggest shock would be in midfield where not only would Shelvey be dropped but Sissoko would be named Captain.
It would prove to be a calculated risk from the Spaniard boss who in looking for leadership was prepared to challenge his giant Frenchman to take the armband and perhaps force him to take a lead role.
Moreover, his decision to move Moussa (who’d not scored all season) to centre midfield in a supporting role behind a lone striker Cisse (who’d only scored two this season) was also a huge surprise to many before the game.
The lineup looked solid from the start however. That ‘compact’ word we hear so much about with Rafa’s teams was there for all to see, and whilst Swansea did have a few good chances Newcastle looked pretty comfortable even when being forced deep at times.
The first half would mainly be a sparring contest with little to shout about for either side. At least that was the case until the 40th minute when, from an Andros Townsend corner, Jamaal Lascelles would score his second goal for the club.
Neither side had looked likely to score before that and the goal couldn’t have come at a better time for the home side as Newcastle would see the game through safely to half time.
After being critical of some of his teammates after defeat last week it was the perfect way for the young centre half to back up his words as he fought past his marker to break the deadlock. HIs run showed exactly the type of desire he'd been demanding from those more senior pros in his interview last week.
After the break would, for the most part, be more of the same. Indeed as the half wore on Swansea would have those few decent chances but fail to convert. Gomis and Williams in particular were unlucky not to bring the visitors back on terms.
And whilst Rafa confirmed after the game that his subs were brought on to replace players who’d run themselves into the ground, bizarrely the first two changes only seemed to slightly fracture Newcastle’s organisation. Although Shelvey, who was the first of the two (Perez for Wijnaldum being the other), certainly came in with a point to prove and 'made himself known' to one or two of his ex teammates, shall we say!
It wasn’t until the introduction of Mitrovic for Cisse in the 80th minute that Newcastle would finally wrap up the game. Just two minutes after he entered the fray his header towards goal from another corner would fall perfectly into the path of Sissoko who would slam home for Newcastle’s second. Today was that captains performance that Rafa had demanded in every way.
Mitro’s powerful run on 88 minutes would then contribute to United’s third goal as he would lay the ball of to Townsend who run down the right, shift to his favoured left foot, and tidy finish past Fabianski would be the cherry on top of this particular birthday cake.
The Newcastle faithful, for their part. had also done their bit. Despite a rather surreal atmosphere for most of the first half they would lift themselves too to make the game a memorable one for quite a few reasons.
A clean sheet, Rafa’s first win as Newcastle manager, Sissoko’s captains performance, two goals from corners or, my favourite, 48,000 people singing 'happy birthday to you’ to Rafa on 90 minutes……take your pick!
With that lot down the road winning at Norwich 3-0 in the lunch time kick off the gap to safety is now back to three points and Newcastle fans can hope again.
Now crucial games at home to Manchester City (who demolished Chelsea today) and then a trip to Liverpool await. As unlikely as it seems, we now need to take some points from these games if we are going to have any realistic chance of staying up as the Mackems continue to rack up the points. But at least we still have that chance.