Newcastle United 0-1 Sheffield Wednesday
Not really a knock-out punch, but one that left Newcastle players, management and fans battered for all to see as newcastle United put in possibly their most inept performance of the season so far this Boxing Day.
The Magpies went into the game on the back of three straight victories and still top of the league with Brighton not playing until the following evening. But with most of the teams below Brighton all winning earlier in the day this was the perfect opportunity for Newcastle to extend their lead at the top and keep a healthy gap over the rest.
What would transpire was almost embarrassing.
With Jonjo Shelvey serving the first of his five match ban for racially motivated abuse given to a Watford player, Rafa would make just the one change to the starting eleven that has served him so well over recent weeks.
STARTING XI: Darlow, Dummett, Clark, Lascelles, Anita, Colback (Mitrovic, 80), Hayden, Diame (Perez, 69), Gouffran (Atsu, 62), Ritchie, Gayle.
And things could have been so different had an early Dwight Gayle shot not have come back of the post. Having started poorly it was a decent run from Diame and then a win of a 50/50 that left Gayle free on the left edge of the Sheffield Wednesday box. With our number 9 racing into the box unmarked he could only watch on in dismay as his left foot drive was somehow tipped onto the bar by ex Mackem keeper Westwood.
That close shave would be the most the Wednesday would have to worry about conceding all game as the visitors, already playing well, seemed to notch their game up another gear.
By half time it would be the hosts that would have their keeper to thank for even still being in the game. First Darlow would make a wonderful save from another ex Sunderland player Fletcher, and then again from the resulting corner.
The warning signs were certainly there for all to see by this point as Wednesday continued their physical approach whilst also targeting Anita at left back with a barrage of high balls that our man was just not equipped to deal with.
And on 53 minutes the visitors had their deserved breakthrough. With Darlow making another wonder stop the ball would eventually fall to Loovens to nod home.
And whilst Newcastle would push forward in search for an equaliser there would be no way back for the below par home side.
Jonjo Shelvey’s stock will certainly have risen as a result of this one, although in truth it should be those who played who should be taking a long hard look at themselves.
Most alarming for Rafa will be the lack of passion and desire shown by his Newcastle side. His team were, in essence, bullied off the park tonight by a team who just wanted the result more than we did. Not something you’d associate with a Rafa team and something we feel sure he will address before our next game to Forest this weekend.