Magpies boss Rafa Benitez took to the press this morning to laud his finally ‘balanced squad’ in the wake of our recent away wins against Brighton and Huddersfield.
Among other more pertinent things, balance has been something that hasn’t always been achievable this season, despite our healthy league position. Our reliance on human metronome Jonjo Shelvey as well as goal machine Dwight Gayle is still there for all to see and their absences from the side are always heavily felt.
But on Saturday, the script was different. In a Newcastle side that was not used to seeing so little of the ball, the call of duty fell upon some of our less notorious stars to bring home the bacon (and the three points).
In arguably the toughest game we have faced all season (an odd thing to say when we won the game 3-1, I know) it was captain fantastic Jamaal Lascelles and his centre back sidekick Ciaran Clark who perhaps stole the show with their resolute defending. Of all the talk of which players could survive the step-up to England’s top tier (trying my best not to tempt providence here), I’d lay down a case for those two to be among the first names to appear on Rafa’s 23 man squad this summer.
Clark, who’s been a steady Premier League performer (sans his last season with Villa) and Lascelles who looks to be maturing every day after being given the armband would, at least in my opinion, make a solid foundation in Newcastle’s defence if the last few weeks has been anything to go by.
Tonight, I imagine, will be a slightly easier game for our English stalwarts. Despite a win against lowly Wolves last weekend, tonight’s opponents Reading will no doubt still be feeling the effects of those two recent defeats to Huddersfield and Brighton. It never bodes well for a side to be looking over their shoulder, but Jaap Stam’s men will know another defeat tonight and a win for play-off chasing Fulham will certainly put the proverbial cat among the pigeons where the play-off places are concerned (see league table below).
How would you see the Magpies line up tonight? Have your say in the comments below.