Yesterday saw Sheffield Wednesday pull off a well deserved 2-1 win over Newcastle in the late kick off at Hillsborough – a poor performance but no need to panic as our promotion push remains on track.
Prior to the game, results in the 3pm kick offs handed the Magpies a timely boost. Huddersfield (3rd) suffered a shock 2-0 defeat away to relegation threatened Nottingham Forest, while Reading (4th) saw their automatic promotion chances all but ended in a shocking 7-1 defeat at Norwich.
I had hoped this would spur the team on to extend their lead over the chasing pack, but I was to be proved wrong.
The opening exchanges saw us enjoy the lion’s share of possession, however, just 2 minutes in saw the first of several defensive lapses from Rafa’s men. Paul Dummett’s miscued clearance fell directly into the path of Gary Hooper, who smashed the crossbar.
Steven Fletcher then passed up two huge chances for the home side – one coming from a tentative piece of Chancel Mbemba defending, whose blushes were saved by a miraculous point-blank save from Karl Darlow.
Sheffield Wednesday will have been left wondering how they weren’t ahead, yet very nearly went into half time 1-0 down, with an incredible long range effort from Jonjo Shelvey almost catching Kieran Westwood out minutes before the break:
— Ben Dinnery (@BenDinnery) April 8, 2017
In an uncharacteristic away performance, Newcastle looked a soft touch defensively, with the attack minded partnership of Diame and Shelvey offering inadequate protection in front of a disjointed back four. With Hayden and Colback absent, Rafa had few alternatives, but Benitez will have been disappointed by the lack of organisation and discipline shown by his side.
Jonjo Shelvey, who was undoubtedly our best player, began to make things happen from an advanced role in the 2nd half, only for the home side to break the deadlock on the hour. Yoan Gouffran conceded a needless free kick in a dangerous area, with Ross Wallace’s subsequent delivery being headed home by Tom Lees. It was a cheap goal to concede, made all the more inexcusable given Lees rose above all FOUR United players who surrounded him.
One soon became two, with the Magpies failing to deal with another set piece. From a long throw, Steve Fletcher crept in ahead of Jamaal Lascelles, angling a looping header beyond the helpless Karl Darlow. It was another soft goal to concede and one that will have left Benitez seething.
With 10 minutes to go and a mountain to climb, Aleksandar Mitrovic was thrown on and it must be said, he made a real impact in his short spell on the field. He unsettled the Sheffield back line, winning his duals and holding up the play. This was a welcome sight for Rafa and fans alike, given that the Serbian may be needed during the run-in after Dwight Gayle suffered a re-occurrence of his hamstring problems in the first half.
With 5 minutes to go, we were handed a lifeline. Mitrovic expertly brought down a ball in behind, seeing his swivelling strike rebound off Westwood and tapped in by the oncoming Shelvey, who deserved his goal.
The late surge was too little too late from the boys however, with Sheffield Wednesday holding on for a well deserved 2-1 win, seeing them reclaim their play-off place, as Newcastle failed to respond to Brighton’s return to the top, with Hughton’s men winning at QPR on Friday night.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a poor performance, highlighting some of the shortcomings of this Newcastle side, however some of the overreactions I’ve seen from fans are uncalled for at this stage.
For example, I have seen several suggesting this side is not good enough for the Premier League. This would be a valid point if made over the summer, but we are not currently a top flight side, with the present squad being built for promotion and doing a pretty good job of it given the ominous league standings.
Fans have every right to be disappointed by yesterday’s display; it wasn’t what we’ve came to expect, but it’s time for a bit of perspective.
We may have lost last night, but crucially, results elsewhere mean no damage has been done in our bid for promotion.
Admittedly, the defeat is a blow to our title hopes, however, it’s another week down and another step closer to the Premier League, as we maintain our 10 point lead over Huddersfield in 3rd.
Keep the faith folks – we go again against Leeds on Friday!