If you are a Newcastle United supporter, you don’t need to be reminded of our current situation in the Premier League ecosystem. Prior to this weekend, 10th and 19th place were separated by a mere six points. Newcastle United, despite earning points in recent fixtures, was falling closer and closer to the relegation zone. This newest doomsday scenario materialized Sunday prior to kickoff when wins from resurgent Swansea and surprising Huddersfield sank Newcastle into relegation on goal difference.
Furthering the gloom, it was our turn to host second-place Manchester United—the timing of which can only be considered, “Classic Newcastle.” Say what you will about the title race, in-fighting at Manchester United, or their underperformance, the Red Devils served us our worst loss this year. Additionally, in spite of his record at St. James Park (which has not seen him earn a win on the road), José Mourinho is still a great tactician with a much superior squad. All this did not spell out a good day at home.
Newcastle storms out of the gate
That said, Newcastle United came forward with great tactical planning and sheer will—earning a 1-0 win at home over Manchester United. To the shock of many, the Magpies started on the front foot, peppering the Manchester United defense and forcing David de Gea into some early fine saves. After 10 minutes, we reverted back to regularly scheduled programming, and Newcastle’s defense was faced with the offensive firepower of the Red Devils.
If you are a member of Toon Army, the scoreless first half has two huge moments for you: new loanee (and hopeful signing) Martin Dúbravka ‘s huge save on Anthony Martial in a one-on-one confrontation, and a no-call on a clear penalty suffered by Dwight Gayle from a Chris Smalling challenge. With so much suspense right before halftime, it wouldn’t be surprising to fear the second half, especially with a squad that seems to thrive in the final 45 minutes.
The fighting Magpies
However, that didn’t happen on Sunday. For whatever reason, Newcastle continued their fighting spirit. They defended with cohesion, pride, and passion—just what the city expects of its squad. With a perfectly executed set-play, Florian Lejeune won a free header and directed it towards Dwight Gayle, who laid off perfectly for a streaking (and solo) Matt Ritchie. The midfielder not only scored his first goal of the year, he won the only goal of the game. Dwight Gayle came up huge again as he cleared two shots off point-blank chances from Martial (off a corner). Martin Dubravka also loomed large twice, as he was able to make a final reflex save, thereby preserving a win and his first clean sheet.
Who showed up?
Simply put, everyone did. I don’t have a bad thing to say about a single player or tactic from Sunday’s match. Newcastle needed the perfect game and they got it—earning three points. Matt Ritchie got on the score sheet, which is colossal for a man who was expected to score in the top flight and scored 11 in the Championship last year. Hopefully, he has caught the scoring itch.
Florian Lejeune finally had a signature performance, playing alongside the equally impressive Jamaal Lascelles. DeAndre Yedlin and Paul Dummett both performed above expectations in the face of tough challenges from Manchester United’s top-notch wing play. Mohamed Diamé played like two people again; the same could be said for Dwight Gayle, who played heroically.
Ayoze Pérez kept it simple and controlled what he could. In this regard, he was exactly what was needed. Though he ran out of steam again, Kenedy showed his class once more on Sunday.
For myself, the players which were the most impressive (though for completely different reasons) were the new goalkeeper, Martin Dubravka, and oft-criticised midfielder, Jonjo Shelvey. Whenever you have a new signee playing in front of a Newcastle-sized crowd, there’s bound to be jitters. However, factor in playing in a different country, for a new side in front of fresh supporters, and then against the heralded Manchester United. Finally, take into account Newcastle’s place in the table. Regardless of all this baggage, the Slovakian was cool as a cucumber. He made bold saves, played well out of the back, and commanded the box. If he keeps this up, the Gallowgate End will be chanting his name.
When it comes to Jonjo Shelvey, a player we expected to be a game-changer, this season has not gone to plan. He’s been a loose cannon—sometimes ineffective, sometimes untrustworthy, and sometimes both. I won’t say that he showed Steven Gerrard-like brilliance in the offensive, but his effort made the difference for Newcastle. Shelvey made giant tackles in dangerous situations—and that against crafty players. His biggest contribution, however, may have been overlooked. There were innumerable times that a simple pass from Jonjo directly and immediately played Newcastle out of pressurized danger. It may not be the 40-yard, cross-pitch passes that captivate Geordie hearts, but they were just as impactful. Importantly, Jonjo can influence the game from short distances.
What’s up next?
Though we are still in the thick of the fight, Newcastle’s win catapulted them up to 13th place, with a quality goal-difference compared to our rivals. As long as we still have trouble scoring, our goal-difference is an asset which we must maintain. I consider a bad loss to be any match in which a side loses by three points or greater. Using this logic, Newcastle has had only one disadvantageous loss to date, that being a 4-1 defeat to Manchester United. This standing is rare amongst teams in our predicament in the table.
Schedule-wise, we get a break next week due to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup. Then follows road fixtures against Bournemouth and Liverpool, which will require different tactics. The Bournemouth match is winnable, considering we were the better side when we last played. But Bournemouth has suffered a bad loss against Huddersfield, making their match with us all the more important. Yet, if we play the same way we did on Sunday, I can see us taking all three points.
Enjoy the week off and the big win, Magpies. Howay the Lads!