After a strong finish to the holiday season and a win at home versus Luton Town in the FA Cup, Newcastle fans had circled this fixture on their calendars. Before last Saturday’s match, Newcastle sat 13th in the table but only 2 points above relegation. A home match against a relegation favorite presented two crucial opportunities: first, the opportunity to further distance themselves from the drop, and secondly, an opportunity to earn their first home win since October and turn St. James Park into a fortress for the rest of the season.
Newcastle hopes for victory dashed
After a Jordan Ayew goal in the 60th minute gave the Welsh visitors the early second half lead, Newcastle quickly equalized but was never able to push ahead. Newcastle’s opening 45 minutes were some of the best football they’ve played this year, but again they lacked the clinical finishing touch to open the scoring in the first. Point blank misses by Paul Dummett, Dwight Gayle, and Ayoze Pérez on a breakaway were the clearest examples of times Newcastle could have taken the lead. There were also plenty of times where Swansea were sloppy or caught in possession, and again, Newcastle could not dole out punishment.
The second half, to be frank, was perfectly even. Newcastle’s opening 15 minutes was as sloppy as Swansea’s first half; the only difference this time is Swansea were able to capitalize. As soon as the goal was scored, Joselu was brought on, with Rafa Benitez expecting Swansea to soak pressure and, “park the bus”. I’m sure it was a surprise to him to have his height-blessed striker score just 7 minutes later after collecting a deflected Pérez effort. Both sides had their chances in the last 20 minutes, with Newcastle having the greater number of those, again, thanks to a newly invigorated crowd. However, Swansea were unlucky to not have punished Newcastle in stoppage time on a counter-attack that Wilfried Bony will be replaying in his nightmares for some time to come.
Newcastle: Fast and furious, but still fruitless
Newcastle—apart from the opening 15-20 minutes of the second half—showed they were a Premier League side. Their link-up play and ability to create chances on both flanks, as well as getting the ball to people in dangerous positions were all top flight. But it still hurts to see the best chances of the game not be finished properly. A proven scorer is still needed, particularly if you believe scoring is infectious. While the purse strings are still tight at Newcastle, partially due to the turmoil in the Newcastle board room, I would be surprised if that scorer comes through in January. Rafa has these guys fighting until the end: I don’t believe these points exist under former managers, so maybe the Board is thinking he can have them believe they can score too. That seems more wishful.
(Shields Gazette, 2017)
Who Showed Up:
Joselu: Here’s a golden rule for my blog: As long as 1) Newcastle are within touching distance of relegation, or 2) Mohamed Salah has more goals than the entire Newcastle squad, you score a goal, you get your name on the board. Step right up, Joselu.
Mohamed Diame: He had been warming up the past few games, and this may have been his best performance to date. Guy was an animal; catching Swans in possession, stopping crucial passes, and linking up with the offense, Diame did it all for 90-plus minutes. There’s something to be said on his shot selection, however it is days like he had Saturday—those when he displays the toughness and mastery of the late Cheick Tiote and the athleticism Moussa Sissoko is capable of—that demonstrate why Rafa keeps him in the lineup. MOTM for me today.
Paul Dummett: I have been harsh on him in my personal life, but today Paul Dummett played like a Premier League left-back. He was great playing long balls to Christian Atsu down the left flank and was, in general, commanding of his side of the field. He would likely be MOTM had he converted his point blank chance in the first half.
(Daily Sun, 2017)
Shaking Off the Rust:
Jonjo Shelvey: Not to say he was the only one. I thought Ciaran Clark and Jamaal Lascelles were culpable of the goal (Clark more) and Christian Atsu should’ve done better with his matchup, but Shelvey was a detriment to the side. He did somewhat well in link-up play, but the match was a classic example of, “Jonjo being Jonjo”. Jonjo’s lucky Diame played the role of two men defensively because Shelvey was non-existent. Jonjo’s long-ball was not on today as well, which leaves him frustrated. Then Jonjo’s frustrations started to boil over late in the second, leading Rafa to sub him out for Mikel Merino, which didn’t seem to make Jonjo took happy anyway.
This was always going to be a tough matchup for his long-ball, which is why I was surprised Mikel Merino didn’t start, but it doesn’t explain his attitude. Jonjo needs some time to cool down; if he’s going to be an ineffective punk every match, he becomes a liability for a squad that does not need any more. Furthermore, if he’s going to be that ineffective and that much a liability, the transfer rumors swirling about him will surely dry up.
This was a game that Newcastle showed fight and displayed their case that they belong in this league. But without a scorer, they are tempting the fates, and the fates don’t typically play to the Toon. This match also represented a crucial opportunity to earn points as Newcastle are unlikely to take anything off their next opponent, Manchester City. City will be fuming mad after their first loss in the season to Liverpool; the final score was 4-3 but the final scoreline was the closest that match ever was. It isn’t a good time to go visit what is clearly the best side in the Premier League. Hopefully Newcastle can keep the score low and preserve their best asset on the bottom to date: their goal difference. Howay the Lads.