Sunday marked our biggest win of the season and ensured the return of the feel good factor on Tyneside. With us in the relegation zone at kick off, Newcastle stepped up to cause one of the shocks of the season and extended Jose Mourinho’s miserable record at St.James’ Park. The three points has lifted us to 13th, but the confidence gained feels like it was more important than just the points.
Here are five big positives I’ve taken from the game that bode well for our vital run in…
1. Shelvey looked like a changed man
Shelvey was awarded the man of the match award by pundits as he arguably completed the best 90 minutes of his Newcastle career to date. Gone were the usual wild, wasteful passes of perceived lack of effort and in its place was a wonderful performance of controlled aggression, excellent distribution and showing intelligence off the ball. Will be a real asset for our run in on this type of form and looks like he is forming a good partnership with Mo Diame.
2. Lejeune looks a class act next to Lascelles
Lascelles was outstanding again but fitness permitting, it looks like Lejeune is the man to play regularly alongside him. His display against Manchester United showed just why Benitez fought so hard to land him from Eibar in the summer. He set up the goal nicely, was solid positionally, looked strong in the air and calm on the ball.
Clark’s patchy form hasn’t helped the NUFC backline this season, so hopefully Lascelles and Lejeune can get some real momentum together and build on Sunday. It’s worth mentioning that the Frenchman had a big wobble in form when playing alongside Clark prior to his injury, but he looks so much more settled next to the skipper and we saw that again on Sunday.
3. Dubravka didn’t look like a one-hit wonder
I was hoping Dubravka would be thrown in against Man Utd as I viewed the game as a free swing before the Bournemouth game. His performance surprised us all and things won’t get much better for the Slovakian after getting a 10/10 in the Chronicle match report.
He pulled off key saves from Martial and then at the death to deny Carrick to see us over the line. He also seemed to bring some communication and a calming influence over the back four, which we have sorely missed this season. He also looked assured from crosses and it looks like we may have unearthed a real bargain if the £4m permanent fee is to be believed. It won’t get any harder for him this season, being thrown in at the deep end against such a top side, but he passes this test with flying colours and looks to have the makings of a very good all round goalkeeper.
4. Ritchie off the mark and looking much better
It has been a tough season for Ritchie, after starting so well with a flurry of assists. He has rightly been dropped recently after not providing enough of a threat recently so it was nice to see him get his first goal of the season in such a key game to match the effort he puts in.
His work rate can never be questioned, but he was much more involved in this game after being on the fringes of so many recently. hopefully this can give him the confidence to get us a few more key goals over the coming weeks.
5.NUFC turn the corner at SJP?
Our poor form at St.James’ is well documented, with three points on Sunday our first win on home soil since October. The characteristics of this Newcastle side appear to be better suited to hitting teams on the counter and playing away from home and after failing to beat the likes of Swansea and Brighton at home recently, three bonus points from a game against one of the top sides was all the more welcome.
We found a nice balance on Sunday at home, we offered a nice balance of defending and going forward. We have been picked off at home against the likes of Leicester and Bournemouth for committing too much going forward, so it was refreshing to see the team get the balance spot on. We defended well, showed great aggression and also a threat going forward. Slimani can hopefully help with the cutting edge of the team once fit but breaking our duck at home can only help our confidence with key home matches against the likes of Southampton, Huddersfield and West Brom to come.
What was your highlight from Sunday? Do you think we will now stay up?