Before the Kick-off on New Year’s Day, I woke up to a Starting XI that had me feeling uneasy. While talking with some friends about Newcastle’s opening game of 2018 at Stoke City (the team with the worst defensive record in the Premier League), one replied with, “I’m not sure who’s going to score, but Howay!”
He had a point. After scoring 3 in a win at West Ham a little over a week ago, Newcastle were shut out in a valiant effort hosting Manchester City, and again in a poor exhibition hosting Brighton & Hove Albion in the last game of 2017. Even before those games, Newcastle weren’t exactly scoring with consistency this season.
Luckily, forward Ayoze Perez found an opportune time to net for the second time this season as Newcastle United tested, frustrated, and ultimately defeated Stoke City 1-0. This brought Newcastle to three away wins thus far, which already surpasses the number of away wins from Newcastle’s relegation campaign in 2015-2016 (just 2). Newcastle did not have the lion’s share of possession, but did respond with a resolute and sound interior defence; they also had more shots, and shots on goal, than their opponents.
Newcastle United end the winter season collecting 8 points from a possible 30, but with 7 points coming from the last four games, and the only loss being to the dominant Manchester City. The last 4 results show a narrative of a club ready to break out of it’s end-of-2017 funk.
Who Showed Up:
Despite struggling through a tough season which has possibly seen him regress as a player, in my opinion this was Ayoze Perez’s best game of the season. He did a great job in hold-up play and made himself dangerous as the game grew. He made multiple runs at the back line with the ball at his feet, he had an incredible flick on from a corner which should’ve netted an assist, and beautifully finished a great cross from Jacob Murphy for his goal.
Karl Darlow was called into action today after Rob Elliot suffered an injury, and he rose to the occasion with an excellent display. He was the best player on the pitch and if it weren’t for saves against Choupo-Moting, Mame Biram Diouf, and Charlie Adam’s free kick, Newcastle would’ve been leaving Stoke without any points.
Shout out also to the defensive partnership of Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark, who showed composure even against the towering height of Stoke City. After having very few corners against Brighton & Hove Albion, Newcastle had a few smart corners that were unlucky to put Newcastle on the board. I thought Christian Atsu had a goal in him before the game, and he had a few moments in the first half which reaffirmed this belief.
Who Stayed Behind in 2017:
I swear I am not picking on him. In fact I thought Ciaran Clark had a solid game. Except of course for his howler in front of goal that you can expect to be included in any “miss of the season” debates.
DeAndre Yedlin had himself a tough game against Stoke City, and it would have been a lot worse if not for his blinding pace. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he found Xherdan Shaqiri and Maxim Choupo-Moting very hard to deal with. However, he also seemed to have issues with simple clearances and distribution.
Javier Manquillo earned himself a yellow card on the left side and looked the lesser in a match-up against 18 year-old Right Back Thomas Edwards. Jonjo Shelvey had his moments but his distribution was wayward too often, perhaps could’ve been subbed for Isaac Hayden.
Credit to Rafa Benitez for regrouping the Lads and lifting Newcastle United from 18th to 13th at time of writing. The problem? Relegation is a lot closer than their place in the table suggests, as just 2 points separates Newcastle from the drop-zone. Of the teams in the bottom half of the table, Newcastle are tied with Brighton & Hove Albion for lowest Goal Differential, which could easily make the difference between places when points are this tight. Either way, finding a consistent way to score goals is going to be key in 2018.
In the short term, we have Luton Town in the FA Cup which may serve a number of purposes, notably rest (or possibly granting stud keeper Freddie Woodman his first team debut). The following week we have another must-win game against Swansea City, which will be crucial in separating Newcastle from The Drop, and represents the best opportunity to collect points before playing both the Manchesters and Burnley in three of the next four.
Keep an eye out for blogs coming which will evaluate Newcastle’s needs in the January transfer window, as well as my thoughts on the season thus far. Howay the Lads!