A spirited comeback sealed a much needed draw at West Brom last night, with a goal from Ciaran Clark and an own-goal from Jonny Evans earning us a point in a game we were once 2-0 down in.
It stopped the rot and helps steady the ship ahead of Saturday’s trip to Chelsea, but here’s some key points to take from last night’s game in the mean time:
Ritchie finds some much needed form
Ritchie has been uncharacteristically ineffective at either end of the field in recent weeks, but he was back with some crucial contributions last night.
He was pushing to make things happen all second half and got his reward, playing a part in both goals by providing the assist for Ciaran Clark with a pin-point corner, also firing in a low cross that Evans put in his own net for the equaliser.
Two more assists to add to the four he notched earlier in the season and some signs of the real Matt Ritchie returning.
Merino makes us tick – even on an off day!
The Spaniard made his return last night, and whilst he looked quite rusty at times, he really does make us tick in midfield.
He always looks to get on the ball, but, quite crucially, always seems keen to get us moving up the pitch – whether it be a burst with the ball or a quick forward pass.
As I say, he didn’t look at his best, with this being his first start in a month after a spell on the sidelines, but he has so much to offer and has an air of calm and class about him which will be priceless in a team lacking in real quality.
Mitrovic must start on Saturday
It’s almost become tedious seeing fans constantly call for Mitrovic to be played over Joselu, but it’s hard to argue with those pleading with Benitez when you see how much he offered in comparison to Joselu last night.
He brought down long balls, lead the line with real presence and purpose, got far more involved and looked more of a threat in 20 minutes than Joselu did all game.
He, along with Rolando Aarons and Jonjo Shelvey, helped change the game for us last night. Rafa may be stubborn and the Serbian is clearly not in his long-term plans, but he’d be a fool not to see how much more effective he looks than Joselu at the moment.
He often gives the crowd a lift, but he genuinely gave the team a lift in this one. Mitrovic must start at Chelsea on Saturday.
Mbemba looks our best bet at LB while Dummett’s out
After playing him at left-back in the opening few weeks of the season, Benitez threw Mbemba back into the mix for this one, replacing the right-footed Manquillo who hadn’t looked comfortable out on the left recently.
He may have let Phillips’ cross in a little too easy for their second, but Mbemba generally got the better of Phillips, with the talented West Brom winger rarely getting much change out of the Congolese defender.
He’s a good athlete, tends to read one on one situations well and is decent on the ball too. He looks to be our best options at left-back while we wait for Dummett to regain full fitness.
The same old errors continue to cost us
Whilst we naturally look at the positives after a much needed comeback, there’s some ongoing issues that need to be ironed out before we’re punished again in the coming weeks.
Against Man Utd and Watford, several goals came from crosses into the box, with both also handing us killer blows right on the half-time whistle.
We switched off once again in the final few seconds of the first half and went in at the break 1-0 down. Our concentration and organisation has been found wanting in recent weeks, seeing us concede NINE goals in our last three games.
Issues have persisted at full-back, particularly on Yedlin’s side, and we’re definitely missing Lascelles’ presence and leadership at the back.