It may now be 2017 but we had to get through December first. What’s not to like about December hey? Sure, the nights are colder and longer but there’s the joys of counting down to a New Year as well as the giving and receiving of gifts from friends and family under the guise of the big fat man with the long white beard. The day itself was saddened as the world lost George Michael and then days later with one of the most recognisable faces from one of my favourite film franchises in Carrie Fisher. May they Rest In Peace. However, life goes on and so does Football which brings me to…
10 Developments in Football: December 2016
- The Champions League Group Stages came to a close in December with Leicester City, Manchester City and Arsenal progressing to the knockout stages while Tottenham Hotspur fell into the Europa League after finishing 3rd in their group, a position secured by a 3-1 win over CSKA Moscow.
- Arsenal’s reward for eventually topping a Champions League group was the daunting tie of Bayern Munich (not much luck there) after PSG were held to a 2-2 draw by Ludogorets (their reward was a tie against Barcelona). Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City were drawn against AS Monaco while Leicester City paired with Sevilla.
- Southampton fell out of the Europa League on away goals in the Group Stage as a 1-1 draw at home against Hapoel Beer Sheva FC saw the visitors progress in 2nd.
- Manchester United progressed with a 2-0 win over FC Zorya Luhansk and will face St Etienne in the Round of 32; Tottenham face KRC Genk.
- December also marks the awarding of the Ballon d’Or to the best player of the year and for 2016 it went to Cristiano Ronaldo who won the award for the fourth time.
- That wasn’t all Ronaldo won in December as he helped himself to a hat-trick as Real Madrid needed extra time in Yokohama to defeat Kashima Antlers 4-2 to secure their second FIFA Club World Cup.
- Chelsea finished 2016 top of the Premier League after their 4-2 win over Stoke City at Stamford Bridge extending their winning run to an equalling record of successive wins in a single Premier League season; 13.
- Five managers lost their jobs in December with the oddest perhaps being the dismissal of Gary Rowett by Birmingham City to replace him with Gianfranco Zola. In the Premier League, Swansea City became the first club to look for their third manager after partaking company with Bob Bradley having only been in charge for 85 days. Elsewhere, the man who blames anyone but himself and that cringeworthy dance at Wembley, Alan Pardew was sacked by Crystal Palace.
- The increasing financial clout of the Chinese Super League surprised again after Brazilian midfielder Oscar left Chelsea for the league and was swiftly followed by Carlos Tevez.
- Football was also given some space in the Queens New Years Honours list which was released on New Year’s Eve: Wales and Northern Ireland managers Chris Coleman and Michael O’Neill were both recognised.
Newcastle United News: December
Cath be gone: Apologies for the awkward subheading but Newcastle United had one departure in January in the form of Ian Cathro. The well-established catch was the only survivor of Steve McLaren’s First team coaching set up under Rafa Benitez but the lure of a management role was too much for the Spaniard to turn down. He departed to manage SPL side Hearts to replace Robbie Nielson who departed for MK Dons. The 30-year-old’s first game in charge of the Tynecastle club was a game with Rangers. He left with Rafa Benitez’s best wishes stating, ‘When a coach has the opportunity and the desire to progress his career in management, it is always very important to allow them the freedom to move on and develop themselves.’.
Return of the Dilsh: After suffering a cruciate ligament injury in April, Rob Elliott or @the_dilsh as he calls himself on Twitter eventually made his comeback. It came in a PremierLeague2 game as Newcastle’s U23 side managed by Peter Beardsley hosted Aston Villa’s U23 side at St James’ Park. he dd not have the best of starts as Andre Green scored for the visitors in the opening minute but Newcastle won 4-2. Post-match, Beardsley praised Elliot as being ‘a class act’
Jonjo Suspension: Jonjo Shelvey had had the matter of an FA misconduct charge on his back since November and the matter was resolved on 13th December. The midfielder was found guilty of the charge relating to an incident in the 87th minute against Wolves in September; around the exact moment, Vernon Anita was dismissed in that fixture. Shelvey was alleged to have used racial language to Romain Saiss. Shelvey was subsequently banned for 5 games and given a fine of £100,000. Shelvey maintains his innocence maintaining he did no use the offensive language alleged but decided not to appeal as ‘Desite my strong disappointment, we think an appeal is very unlikely to change the panel’s decision…’
NUFC Match Reports
December started for Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United with a trip to the City Ground to face Nottingham Forest for the televised the Friday Night Football. The 7.45 Friday kick off meant Newcastle would play this round of fixtures before their other Championship rivals who all played the following day. This was Newcastle’s second game in four days following the EFL Quarter-Final tie with Hull City.
Perhaps because the game went through Extra-time and penalties I found it surprising Benitez only made four changes to the starting 11. The central defensive pairing of Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark remained and the only change in the midfield five was to bring in Ayoze Perez in the attacking midfielder slot instead of Mohamed Diame. Dwight Gayle remained upfront while DeAndre Yedlin and Paul Dummett returned in the full-back positions. Karl Darlow returned in goal as he and Lascelles made their first returns to the City Ground. Nottingham Forest meanwhile, came into the game having picked up 7 points from 9 in November with their previous game being a 5-2 win over Barnsley. They were 17th in the table with 22 points.
The first half of the encounter was controversial, to say the least. Newcastle had two penalty appeals turned down while Nottingham Forest were awarded two. Just past the half hour mark, a threatening Jonjo Shelvey ball into the Forest area was missed by all but Ciaran Clark seemed to be wrestled to the ground by Forest’s Matt Mills. Nothing was given. Then, moments later, a Cash throw in caused issues in the Newcastle penalty area before Shelvey dispossessed Henri Lansbury and the ball was cleared. Amongst the confusion and the referee watching the game progress, the linesman flagged and a penalty was given to Forest. Replays suggested that it was Lansbury who brought down Shelvey but Shelvey’s reaction with his feet was what the linesman flagged for. Shelvey did kick out at Lansbury but Lansbury milked it for all it was worth; clutching his face even though the Newcastle player’s boot was nowhere near his face. The referee, Stephen Martin duly showed Shelvey a straight red card! Newcastle were down to 10 men and could soon be a goal down too. Up stepped Nicklas Bendtner (Lord Bendtner for some) to take the penalty but Darlow saved well to his left as the Dane’s effort was not the best.
Newcastle responded to going a man down well; perhaps because of Darlow’s save. Ciaran Clark had the ball in the net for Newcastle moments later but was rightly disallowed for excessive short pulling on Matt Mills. Newcastle kept on attacking and on another day could have had a penalty for handball against Panjim Kasami after DeAndre Yedlin’s cross found the Swiss midfielders hand. His arm was in a natural position and I do think that would have been harsh. That did not stop Newcastle taking the lead on the brink of half-time, though. An attempted Forest counter-attack was stopped in their own half by Clark dispossessing Cash and playing the ball to Lascelles on the left flank of the penalty area. His ball into the box was deflected into the path of Matt Ritchie who hit a scorching first-time effort into the far corner of the goal from 12 yards out leaving goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic stranded. 1-0 Newcastle!
There would, however, be another twist to the tale in the first half. Just after a fan had Forest head coach Phillipe Montainer fooled into thinking it was halftime, Lansbury controlled a long ball in the penalty area before seemingly being bundled over by Paul Dummett. Despite replays suggesting Lansbury had braced himself to go down under any incoming challenge, the referee can’t see those and Martin gave Forest their second penalty of the game. Inevitably, Dummett was shown a straight red card as the last man. Lansbury stood up to take the penalty he won and opted to hit it hard to the keepers right and sensationally, Darlow went the right way again to keep Forest out!
45 minutes against nine men; it was always going to look more favourable for Forest in the second half. Knowing that, Montainer replaced defender Michael Mancienne with attacker Britt Assombalonga while Benitez sought to defend Newcastle’s lead by bringing on Vurnon Anita to replace Ayoze Perez. Benitez’s plan did not succeed though and Forest only needed 7 minutes of the second half to draw level. It was certainly a scrappy goal but a high cross into the penalty area found Assombalonga who headed it across goal with Darlow stranded in no man’s land. In the resulting confusion, Bendtner managed at the second attempt to scrape the ball into the net for the equaliser. 1-1!
From there on, the game was mostly Forest on the attack with Newcastle adventuring forward only a couple of times. The defending was resilient from Newcastle but would be undone in the closing minutes. A Forest corner was headed on by Apostolos Vellios at the near post and the ball eventually found its way into the net via an unfortunate Lascelles who couldn’t react quick enough with a sliding Assombalonga in front of him. Forest had the lead, 2-1! It was only after the goal Benitez tried something different up front by bringing on Aleksandar Mitrovic but the numerical disadvantage meant it was an uphill battle.
The game finished 2-1 Nottingham Forest. Victory for Forest in what head coach Montainer felt ‘was a crazy game’ saw them climb to 13th in the Championship table on 25 points. Defeat for Newcastle could have cost them the Championship lead but Brighton’s 0-0 draw with Cardiff meant they ended the weekend with a 1 point lead. Speaking after the game, Benitez singled out Lansbury for ‘the way he was behaving’ in the incidents that saw Shelvey and Dummett sent off.
Eight days later, Newcastle United were back in action as they hosted Birmingham City at St James’ Park. Newcastle came into the Championship fixture in 2nd place after Chris Hughton’s Brighton defeated Leeds 2-0 in the Friday Night Football. Aiming to retake top spot, Benitez made two changes to the starting line-up with Mohamed Diame starting in the central attacking midfield position and Vernon Anita at right back. Jon Shelvey and Paul Dummett remained in the side following the successful appeal against their red cards in the previous game. Birmingham meanwhile came into the game 5th in the Championship with 31 points and had fallen to a 3-0 defeat against Barnsley in their previous game.
Newcastle started the game as they meant to go on; dominant and not allowed Birmingham anywhere near scoring. Having said that, it took Newcastle 10 minutes to shift through the gears and get their first meaningful attempt on goal. Dwight Gayle eventually managed to get a shot on Tomas Kuzszcak’s goal but the goalkeeper was equal to the shot and parried it wide before the ball went out for a corner. From the resulting corner, Kuzszcak was again called into action. This time to deny Ciaran Clark’s header which he parried away with two strong hands. Gayle missed a further chance before Isaac Hayden also missed the goal from range. However, in the case of Gayle, it would be third time lucky.
Diame turned Ryan Shotton and advanced down the right wing before curling in a beautiful cross for Dwight Gayle in the penalty area. He had positioned himself between Josh Cogley and Michael Morrisson and did brilliantly to head the ball down and past Kuzszack to open the scoring. 1-0 Newcastle!
Six minutes later and Newcastle doubled their lead. Again, the move came down the right-wing. Matt Ritchie played the ball to Hayden who ran into the Birmingham penalty area before paying a low pass across goal. The pass took a deflection from Robert Tesche but his attempted clearance only directed the ball on to the outside of Gayle’s right foot. The contact with his foot was fortunate for Gayle as it was perfect for him to then tap the ball into the Gallowgate net to double the lead! 2-0 Newcastle!
The only surprise at halftime was that it was only 2-0 to Newcastle. Birmingham’s defence was opened time and time again by Newcastle attacks. Attempts fell to Shelvey, Ritchie, Diame and Hayden but only strong shot stopping from Kuzszack and Newcastle missing the target let the score to two.
As the game progressed into the second half, Newcastle’s victory never looked in doubt. At the break, Birmingham manager Gary Rowett replaced Tesche and Gary Stewart with Maikel Kieftembeld and Lukas Jutkiewicz. They did manage an improvement to Birmingham throughout the half with Jutkiewicz getting his side’s first attempt on goal in the 70th minute. However, by that point, they were 3-0 down. Within the opening exchanges of the half, Ritchie played a short free-kick which he won to Shelvey. Shelley then played a looping ball into the path of Gayle who turned, flicking the ball with his side, sending the ball to Yoan Gouffran who hit a shot, first time from the edge of the six-yard box and into the net off Kuzszack’s legs. 3-0 Newcastle!
It would not be until the 76th minute that Birmingham forced a save from Darlow after Che Adams turned Hayden around 30 yards out from goal before shooting but Corey O’Keefe couldn’t hit the target with the rebound. Moments later and it was four. Gayle had been in search for his third goal of the game and had forced superb one on one save from Kuzszack ten minutes prior. However, after Shelvey played a one-two with Ritchie, receiving the ball on the right-hand side of the penalty area, all Gayle had to do was tap in Shelvey’s pass back for four. He duly obliged and secured his second hat-trick in Newcastle colours.
Post-match, Rafa Benitez spoke of lessons learned from the last home game; the 1-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers, with Newcastle not waiting 45 minutes to create some chances. In general, Newcastle ‘..played attacking football wit some page and good situations that we practised’. Gary Rowett praised Newcastle as being ‘probably the best team I’ve seen in the Championship’ but was ‘very disappointed with the way we made some of the chances far too easy to create’. The victory sent Newcastle back to the Championship summit with 43 points while defeat for Birmingham dropped them to 7th. Rowett would be sacked by Birmingham four days later.
Four days later, Newcastle United were in action again. This time, it was a televised journey to the DW Stadium to face Wigan Athletic. For the first time this season, manager Rafa Benitez named an unchanged starting 11 from the one that defeated Birmingham City 4-0 for what was his 1,000th game in management. They faced a Wigan side who had failed to score at home since defeating Wolves 2-1 in September, sat 23rd and second bottom in the Championship table after suffering defeat to Aston Villa last time out.
During the seven seasons’ these two were Premier League sides, Newcastle only won at Wigan once (a 1-0 victory in 2011 with the goal coming from Shola Ameobi) and lost the other 6. The DW wasn’t the happiest of places for Newcastle to visit and in between the sticks for Wigan was goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen. Personally, I had forgotten he was even still playing.
At 41, he is the oldest player in the Football league and with over 400 Premier League games to his name, he demonstrated just why he hasn’t retired just yet with a string of strong saves to deny Newcastle. Jaaskelainen best save of the game has to be his stop to deny former Wigan player Mohamed Diame in the 10th minute. He did well to get the midfielder’s thunderous effort from 25 yards out and parry it away for a corner. The other notable save was to deny Jonjo Shelvey with his effort from just inside the penalty area on the stroke of half-time.
However, there was little he could do to deny Newcastle the opener. In the 26th minute, Isaac Hayden dispossessed Wigan’s Shaun MacDonald in the Newcastle defensive half. The ball came to Diame who then powered himself into the Wigan half with the ball and played a one-two with Hayden after the midfielder had kept with Diame’s run. After receiving the return ball, Diame used his pace to get away from Jake Buxton and physical strength to keep off Craig Morgan before coolly slotting home past Jaaskelainen for his first goal in the league for Newcastle! Like when he scored against Hull City in the EFL Cup, he withheld from celebrating against his former club.
It remained 1-0 to Newcastle at half-time and in the second half, Wigan gave a slightly better show of themselves. They created more chances in the second half as they sought an equaliser and unlike the first half, they actually found a teammate to get onto the end of their crosses. Fan favourite Will Grigg saw his header at the near post from a corner spin past Darlow far left-hand post after MacDonald headed over the crossbar moments earlier. Only Andy Pellet produced an effort on target for Wigan and that came in the 67th minute. A Stephen Warnock cross from Wigan’s attacking left-hand side found it’s way to Kellet on the other flank of Darlow’s goal but his effort was straight at the Newcastle goalkeeper.
Wigan’s now makeshift defence would be exposed as Newcastle punished Wigan for their wasteful chance taking. A Darlow clearance was headed forward by Dummett to Gouffran on the Newcastle attacking left flank. The Frenchman ran at the Wigan defence before playing a ball across the penalty area. Diame dummied the ball allowing it to get across to Christian Atsu. Atsu had only been on the pitch for 7 minutes since replacing Matt Ritchie. He took a touch to set himself up and hit a powerful effort into the top of the net after Jaaskelainen could only get his right hand to it. 2-0 Newcastle!
That was game, set and match Newcastle. Defeat for Wigan meant they remained 23rd in the Championship on 18 points while victory for Newcastle meant they regained top spot in the Championship from Brighton with 46 points. Post-match, Benitez stated he was, ‘really pleased as it was a difficult game and we knew we were playing against a team towards the bottom of the table, but…a team that was playing well’. Benitez also felt the second goal was ‘perfect timing’ for Newcastle.
Three days later, it was the final game before Christmas. Standing between Newcastle United and being the Championship’s Christmas number 1 was a trip to the Pirelli Stadium to face Burton Albion. To get the victory that would ensure the Christmas top spot, Rafa Benitez made two changes to the starting 11 that defeated Wigan in midweek. DeAndre Yedlin came in at right-back while Christian Atsu came in on the left-wing in place of Yoan Gouffran.
They faced a Burton Albion side who had lost their previous two games including a midweek defeat to Huddersfield Town; 1-0. They came into the game in 21st spot in the Championship with 22 points, 2 ahead of Blackburn Rovers in 22nd. Twelve years ago, Burton Albion were competing in the old Conference; the fifth tier of English football for the first time ever while Newcastle were competing in the Champions League under the leadership of the late Sir Bobby Robson. The fortunes in that time for these two clubs could not have been any more different and on the day, either side could have won in front of a crowd just under 300 from the official capacity of the Pirelli Stadium.
Burton had the first attempt of the game from Lucas Akins but it was also their goalkeeper; Jon McLachlan who was called into action first to deny Atsu from a one on one situation. Jonjo Shelvey was almost orchestrating the game as Newcastle took 15 minutes to find an opener. His defence-splitting pass to Ritchie on the attacking left-flank left Newcastle in a positive 4 v 3 scenario with Dwight Gayle, Atsu and Mohamed Diame rushing in support.Ritchie’s cross was met by Gayle at the near post who produced a delightful flick with his left foot to beat McLauchlin at his near post! 1-0 Newcastle!
Burton showed great character to come almost straight back at Newcastle. Jackson Irvine and John Brayford shared a couple of passes to split the Newcastle defence on their attacking right-wing before the latter delivered a low cross into the penalty area. Akins let the ball pass him at the near post while DeAndre Yedlin and Atsu were not alert enough to the presence of Lloyd Dyer at the far post. All Dyer had to do was place the ball into the exposed net of Darlow’s goal which he duly did to equalise! 1-1!
Burton continued to pile the pressure on Newcastle following their equaliser with Chris O’Grady and Tom Naylor both missing chances. Newcastle would punish them in the 34th minute for their ineffective chance taking. It must be said, it did come against the run of play. A Jamaal Lascelles forward pass with flicked on by Gayle into the path of Diame who used his physical strength to hold off Damien McCrory and place the ball past McLaughlin from just inside the penalty area and into the bottom near side of the goal. 2-1 Newcastle!
The game was pretty even until half-time with both sides carving out a number of chances but none being converted. In the second half, though, Burton piled more pressure on the Newcastle defence as they sought an equaliser and massively out-created the visitors. Most of it came in the final 15 minutes as prior to that both sides had only managed a solitary chance each. Akins should have equalised with the first clear-cut chance of the half after Dyer cut the ball back to him within the penalty area. However, Akins hit his shot from 18 yards over the crossbar. At the other end, Gayle had a miss I think he’d rather forget as his effort was both high and wide of the goal after being put under pressure by Brayford.
Injury time was tense for both sides involved as Burton carved out more chances to get that equaliser. Darlow needed two attempts to get a hold of Jamie Ward’s long-range effort and luckily for Darlow, the Newcastle keeper got a hold of the loose ball before William Millar could get there to pounce. Burton tried again and the last chance of the game fell to Kyle McFazdean after Naylor’s header from a Ward corner found the defender on the left-hand side of Darlow’s goal. However, the defender’s effort only found the side netting as Newcastle did just enough to hold on for the win.
Victory for Newcastle ensured they would be top of the Championship on Christmas Day (a position from which that side has been promoted every year since 2006) on 49 points. Burton meanwhile would spend Christmas placed 21st place in the table on 22 points and still 2 points above the relegation places. Burton manager Nigel Clough praised his team’s performance but conceded, ‘A couple of errors in the lead-up to their goals has cost us’. Meanwhile, Rafa Benitez commented, ‘We said before that it could be difficult and it was so I think we did well…We are top of the table, doing well and winning lots of games and we have had fantastic games and then we have games where we have to show, as we did today, lots of character’.
Boxing Day is a big date in British football. Traditionally, every team in the top 4 tiers of English football play on December 26th though none are usually as late as the 7.45pm kick off these two had to play. We have Sky Sports to blame for that. For this game, Rafa Benitez made three changes to his starting line-up. Jonjo Shelvey served the first of his 5 game suspension for violent conduct so Jack Colback partnered Isaac Hayden in central midfield. Yoan Gouffran and Vurnon Anita at left wing and right-back respectively were the other two to come into the side. They faced a Sheffield Wednesday side who had won their previous two matches, both against Yorkshire rivals in the form of Barnsley and Rotherham United. They came into the game 6th with 37 points in the Championship.
In truth, I feel this was game for the goalkeepers. Both had strong performances and it was Wednesday’s Kieran Westwood who was called into any meaningful action first. A swift Mohamed Diame turn in the attacking half created space for Dwight Gayle on Diame’s left. Gayle pounced on the through ball to him but Westwood did really well to force Gayle’s effort onto the crossbar. That was Westwood’s only stand out moment of the first half as Newcastle wasted the chances that came their way. Most notably was a Ciaran Clark header going wide from a Matt Ritchie corner in the 20th minute while Westwood was barely troubled by Colback’s time effort on the brink of half-time.
At the other end of the pitch, Karl Darlow was unquestionably the busier of the two goalkeepers. The first was to deny ex-Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher. A quick, passing counter-attacking move from Wednesday fell to Fletcher after a Daniel Pudil cross from the left-hand side of the penalty area was deflected into his path. On the half-volley, Fletcher hit a fierce effort which Darlow did fantastically well considering there were three defenders between him and Fletcher, to tip it over the bar for a corner. The resulting corner was aimed for Fletcher at the far side of the 6-yard box. He headed it down and Forrestieri was first to pounce promoting an incredible stop from Darlow’s trailing right leg before the ball was cleared off the line by Gayle. Barlow was not needed moments later though as after being found by a long Sam Hutchinson ball and easily getting away from Paul Dummett’s poor defending, Liam Palmer hit his effort well over!
Other than that, the first half was marred with would and penalty appeals. Sheffield Wednesday recorded 15 fouls in the opening half; the highest of any Championship in the opening half all season. Tommy lees started where he left off in the first half by almost immediately fouling Gayle. That wasn’t the only way Wednesday continued from where they left off as they had Karl Darlow back in action within the opening 5 minutes. This really should have been the opener for Wednesday as Barry Bannan’s ball from the left-wing into the Newcastle penalty area was met by Fletcher. If Fletcher had hit the ball anywhere else than where Darlow had anticipated it would have been 1-0! As it was, Darlow looked to be unstoppable.
Despite that save, it would not be long before the deadlock was broken and there was probably no surprises as to which side scored. A Lee Wallace corner was headed goalwards by Lees but his effort was acrobatically kept out by Darlow. Darlow’s save, however, only sent the ball into the path Forrestieri who’s header back across goal was diverted in by the head of captain Glenn Loovens for his first goal for the club. Darlow eventually beaten, 1-0 Sheff Wed!
Although Wednesday were still dangerous in the attack, it was Newcastle who had the better of the chances as they searched for an equaliser in the tie that remained. Yoan Gouffran first went close but his header from a Dummett cross was always swirling wide of Westwood’s left-hand post. Christian Atsu forced Westwood into his best save of the game to deny a curling effort from the winger from just outside the penalty area but it was at a good height for the keeper. Westwood was also on call to keep out an Aleksandar Mitrovic header from a Ritchie corner. Further attacks failed to come through for Newcastle a most notably, Gayle and Ritchie debated over who would take a free-kick only for Gayle to hit it straight into the wall and not even test the keeper.
Defeat for Newcastle meant they remained top of the Championship for the time being with 51 points. They would be demoted to 2nd the following day due to Brighton’s victory at Fulham. Victory for Sheffield Wednesday meant they reached the 40 point mark but remained 6th in the Championship table. Post-match, Rafa Benitez stated, ‘We have to be disappointed when we lose, especially these kind of games when you’re at the top against a good team and we didn’t manage the pressure.’ Meanwhile, Carlos Carvalhal felt his team ‘did absolutely fantastic…The best way to reflect it is that their goalkeeper was the best player for Newcastle, he made three or four fantastic saves.’
Four days following the Sheffield Wednesday defeat, Nottingham Forest were the visitor’s ay St James’ Park for the final game of 2016. Since these two sides had met at the start of the month, Forest had failed to win a game and picked up only 1 point. They travelled to Tyneside having been beaten 2-1 by Huddersfield Town on Boxing Day and were sat 18th in the Championship table with 26 points.
Hoping to gain revenge on Forest for the earlier defeat in the month, Rafa Benitez made three changes to the starting line-up that lost to Sheffield Wednesday. DeAndre Yedlin started at right back in place of Vernon Anita, Christian Atsu replaced Yoan Gouffran on the left flank of a midfield four while Ayoze Perez came into the attacking midfield position instead of Mohamed Diame.
The game started in a feisty manner. Forest captain Matt Mills and Ben Osborn both conceded fouls in the opening couple of minutes but it was Osborn’s foul on Paul Dummett which proved costly. Matt Ritchie took the resulting free kick and his attempt on goal from 30 yards out was deflected from the wall and into the bottom right-hand corner of Stojkovic’s net to open the scoring. Not even three and a half minutes on the clock and it was 1-0 Newcastle in front of the biggest crowd of the season!
Following the opener, the game continued in a feisty manner as Newcastle continued to attack Forest. Stojkovic was equal to efforts from Dwight Gayle and Ritchie while at the other end, Pajtim Kasami and Nicole Dumitru got Forest’s first sighters at Darlow’s goal but neither of them were able to hit the target. When Forest eventually did manage to hit the target, they equalised.
Hildeberto Pereira evaded lacklustre challenges from Hayden and Colback before playing a pass to Matt Cash who was advancing from his right-back position and played a first-time cross into the Newcastle penalty area. Ciaran Clark attempted to clear the cross but his headed touch couldn’t change the direction of the ball. It came off Nicklas Bendtner and dropped perfectly for Dumitru. The Italian forward perhaps couldn’t believe his luck as he placed the ball, first time under the legs of Darlow and into the net for the equaliser. 1-1!
The equaliser gave Forest added momentum as they looked the more dangerous of the two sides in the remainder of the half. A lack of defensive pressure from Newcastle saw Bendtner take the ball to the edge of the penalty area before cutting in and hitting a right-footed shot into the hands of Darlow. Darlow again denied Kasami on the stroke of half-time before Newcastle came closest. Gayle’s header from a Ritchie corner was well wide before Perez volleyed the ball into the side netting.
Newcastle started the second half in dominant fashion and the first chance of the half fell to Ritchie. An Atsu attempt on goal (or at least I think it was) was deflected off a Forest defenders head and fell to the Scotland International 12 yards out from goal. His low, left-footed volley was well saved by Stojkovic to keep the scores level. A few minutes later and the game was flipped on its head Mills brought down Perez in Newcastle’s defensive half rather heavily. Referee Keith Stroud was not impressed and showed the Forest captain a yellow card. Mills was certainly agitated by the decision to award a foul, let alone the resulting yellow card and as far as the fourth official was concerned, his decision to kick away the ball was the final straw. He pulled over the referee and left him with no option but to show Mills a second yellow card in seconds (this one for descent) and his marching orders.
The decision was a game changer as Newcastle dominated Forest in the remaining half an hour; out-creating them by 8 chances on goal to one. The first of those chances fell to Dwight Gayle. Ciaran Clark played a looping ball aimed for the striker in the penalty area. Eric Lichaj managed to get his head to the ball but the header was pounced on by Gayle who volleyed the ball past Stojkovic and into the roof of the net from an impossible angle! 2-1 Newcastle!
Six minutes later, Benitez replaced Colback with Diame and the Senegalese midfielder gave Newcastle an extra dimension going forward against the ten men of Forest. He had a couple of sighters at goal as Newcastle searched for a third. The third did come ten minutes from time and it was certainly not the prettiest of goals. Attacking down the right hand flank, Yedlin played a forward pass to Ritchie who took the ball towards the penalty area before crossing the ball into the area It took a slight deflection on its path to Gayle at the far post but the striker just simply chested the ball past Stojkoivc for his second and Newcastle’s third of the game.
From there, Newcastle would see out a 3-1 win. Post-game, Phillipe Montainer preferred not to talk about the Matt Mills dismissal insisting ‘it was just the fourth [official] exaggerated a lot.’ before admitting, ‘To concede so quickly the second goal after going down to 10 men, it was too tough’. Rafa Benitez meanwhile was really pleased with the victory; Newcastle’s 17th in the league; something he outlined as ‘quite good’. He also singled out Dwight Gayle as a great player.
The victory put Newcastle back to the top of the Championship table due to the postponement of Brighton’s fixture with Cardiff City. Nottingham Forest meanwhile, finished 2016 in 18th place with 26 points.
NUFC December and 2016/17 in numbers
Minutes Played: 540 minutes
Most appearances: Karl Darlow (540 minutes), Jamaal lascelles (540 minutes), Ciaran Clark (540 minutes), Paul Dummett (540 minutes), Isaac Hayden (532 minutes), Dwight Gayle (516 minutes), Matt Ritchie (507 minutes) and Mohamed Diame (375 minutes); all with 6 appearances
Goals Scored: 12
Goalscorers: Dwight Gayle 6,
Matt Ritchie 2, Mohamed Diame 2,
Yoan Gouffran 1, Christian Atsu 1
Assists: Dwight Gayle 2,
Jamaal Lascelles 1, Mohamed Diame 1, Yoan Gouffran 1, Jonjo Shelvey 1, Matt Ritchie 1
Yellow cards: Isaac Hayden 4,
DeAndre Yedlin 2,
Karl Darlow 1, Ciaran Clark 1, Matt Ritchie 1, Yoan Gouffran 1, Jack Colback 1
Red Cards: Jonjo Shelvey 1, Paul Dummett 1
Total Minutes played (all competitions): 2,540 minutes
Jamaal Lascelles 26 (2,179 minutes), Jonjo Shelvey 26 (2,112 minutes),
Matt Ritchie 25 (2,043 minutes), Paul Dummett 25 (2,048 minutes),
Isaac hayden 24 (1,799 minutes),
Yoan Gouffran 22 (1,718 minutes), Mohamed Diame 22 (1,587 minutes), Dwight Gayle 22 (1,748 minutes),
Ayoze Perez 21 (1,207 minutes), Ciaran Clark 21 (1,920 minutes),
Vurnon Anita 20 (1,564 minutes),
DeAndre Yedlin 17 (1,039 minutes), Karl Darlow 17 (1,530 minutes),
Jack Colback 16 (1,042 minutes), Aleksandar Mitrovic 16 (583 minutes),
Matz Sels 11 (1,020 minutes),
Grant Hanley 9 (421 minutes),
Chancel Mbemba 8 (715 minutes),
Achraf Lazaar 5 (231 minutes),
Jesus Gamez 3 (163 minutes),
Daryl Janmaat 2 (175 minutes), Daryl Murphy 2 (105 minutes), Adam Armstrong 2 (27 minutes),
Jamie Sterry 1 (90 minutes), Cheik Tiote (15 minutes)
Total Players used: 25
Goals: Dwight Gayle 19,
Matt Ritchie 7,
Ayoze Perez 6,
Aleksandar Mitrovic 5, Yoan Gouffran 5, Mohamed Diame 5,
Jonjo Shelvey 3, Christian Atsu 3,
Ciaran Clark 2,
Isaac Hayden 1, Grant Hanley 1, Jamaal Lascelles 1, Own Goals 1
Assists: Matt Ritchie 11,
Jonjo Shelvey 7,
Ayoze Perez 3, DeAndre Yedlin 3, Dwight Gayle 3,
Aleksandar Mitrovic 2, Yoan Gouffran 2, Mohamed Diame 2,
Ciaran Clark 1, Christian Atsu 1, Isaac Hayden 1, Vurnon Anita 1, Jamaal Lascelles 1
Clean Sheet breakdown: 13
Karl Darlow 8
Matz Selz 5
Yellow Cards: Isaac Hayden 7,
Matt Ritchie 6,
Jack Colback 5, Yoan Gouffran 5,
Paul Dummett 4, Jonjo Shelvey 4, Jamaal Lascelles 4,
Aleksandar Mitrovic 3, Dwight Gayle 3,
Ayoze Perez 2, Karl Darlow 2, DeAndre Yedlin 2,
Matz Sels 1, Vurnon Anita 1, Christian Atsu 1, Mohamed Diame 1
Red Cards: Vurnon Anita 1, Jonjo Shelvey 1, Paul Dummett 1
|Miles travelled||974 miles||4,622 miles|
|Number of Spectators||199,096||991,403|
|Shots on target||35||110|
|Percentage shots on target||49.3%||33.26%|
|Minutes per chance||7 minutes and 36 seconds||5 minutes and 50 seconds|
|Minutes per goal||45||42 minutes and 47 seconds|
|Number of different scorers||5||13 including own goals|
|Chances per goal||5.92||7.77|
|Goals per game||2||2.14|
* including penalty shoot-outs
|Minutes per shot faced||8 minutes and 3 seconds||10 minutes and 19 seconds|
|Minutes per goal conceded||108 minutes||127 minutes and 30 seconds|
|Saves per game||3||2.32|
|Goals conceded per game||0.83||0.71|
|Fouls per card||5.69||5.93|
|Minutes per foul||7 minutes and 17 seconds||8 minutes and 3 seconds|
|Minutes per card||41 minutes and 31 seconds||51 minutes|
|Penalties faced/saved (including penalty shoot-outs)||2/2||7/2|
If anyone would like to see the full break down then it is available in PDF form the link below:
Time to check in with the players Newcastle United have out on loan. Newcastle’s 15 string contingent out on loan deals had differing fortunes in December. I explore that here…
In Holland, Tim Krul continued his return to match fitness following his long absence with the cruciate ligament injury he suffered early last season. Although he didn’t play with the Ajax first team, I think it’s crucially important he gets as much game time under his belt before he’s ready for first-team action. He had a solid December with only a Jorge Hoefdraad strike getting past him as the Ajax U23 side eventually saw off Sc Cumber 3-1. He also featured in their 1-0 home win over PSV Eindhoven’s junior side to finish December 2nd in the Jupiler League with 39 points. Meanwhile, the first team collected 4 points from a possible 9 with a 1-0 home win over Fc Groningen, 1-0 defeat at FC Twente before closing out December with a 1-1 draw at home with PSV Eindhoven. The Ajax first team finished December with 37 points in the Eredivisie in 2nd place; 5 points adrift of leaders Feyenoord.
Coming off the bench for PSV at the Amsterdam Arena was former Ajax captain Siem De Jong. He’d been sent on just after the hour mark as a second half substitute by coach Philip Cocu and scored the equaliser against his old club with 9 minutes remaining. The Winter break in the Eredivisie perhaps came at the wrong moment for De Jong as that was his second goal from the bench in as many league games. The week prior to the Ajax game, he scored against Go Ahead Eagles in the 68th minute having only been on the pitch for 4 minutes. The other two games at the start of December were not so great for De Jong. Both games ended goalless and in the first, De Jong played the full 90 minutes at Roda JC. In the second, he was a second-half substitute sent on with just under half an hour remaining as PSV couldn’t break down FC Rostov at home in their final Champion League Group game. They finished bottom in Group D with 2 points meaning their 2016/17 European adventure came to an end as Rostov dropped into the Europa League. Meanwhile, they ended 2016 3rd in the Eredivisie with 34 points. The Eredivisie returns on the weekend 14th-15th January.
In France, Florian Thauvin and Marseille had the bragging rights over Henri Saivet and St Ettiene. Marseille finished 2016 in 6th place in Ligue 1 with 30 points while St Etienne was four points further back in 8th.
Thauvin started December by scoring Marseille’s opener in their 3-0 victory over AS Nancy with a scorching curling effort from just inside the penalty area, clipping in off the inside of the far post in the opening minute of the second half. A brilliant goal! He wasn’t done with just scoring the opener though as his corner set up fellow on-loan striker Befatimbi Gomis for Marseille’s second goal of the game. Next up, was a visit to FC Dijon where Thauvin provided the assist for Maxime Lopez to score the opener in quite foggy conditions with a delightful defence-splitting pass. The following weekend, 2013 Champions Lille visited the Orange Velodrome. Gomes put the hosts in front in the second half but just after the hour mark, Thauvin produced another stellar, curling strike which had Lille goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama grasping at air. He didn’t play the full 90 minutes in this game though as Rudi Garcia replaced him with a certain Remy Cabella four minutes from time. Thauvin did play the full 90 minutes in the next game; a 2-1 win over SC Bastia but was not as influential in the outcome of the game. The other December commitment was a Coupe De La Ligue tie with FC Sochaux. Thauvin played the full game for Marseille as the tie eventually went to penalties. He slotted his home at the start of the shootout but it would not be enough as Marseille crashed out 5-4 in the shootout. Overall, though, December was a solid month for Thauvin who I think has found his rhythm on the right wing of Garcia’s attacking three.
Henri Saivet started the month as a second-half substitute, coming on for the final 16 minutes of St Etienne’s 2-0 defeat away to FC Rennes. In the following midweek, he was given a starting place in the final group game of the Europa League. However, coach Christophe Galtier brought him off after 63 minutes with St Etienne trailing RSC Anderlecht 2-1 at the time. Following his substitution, St Etienne managed to turn it around and won 3-2 in Belgium to subsequently win Group C with 12 points. Their reward: a round of 32 ties against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. Subsequently, Saivet was an unused substitute for St Etienne’s following two league games; a 2-1 home win ver Guingamp and a defeat by the same scoreline at bottom of the table FC Lorient. In between these two league games, he did return for the Coupe De La Ligue tire with AS Nancy but was again replaced after 63 minutes with Nancy leading after a Mauricio Dale 18th minute penalty. A week and a half later, these two sides met again but would ultimately finish goalless and Saivet was restricted to the final 25 minutes. It’s safe to say December was not his best month and he’ll be eager to work his way into getting more game time when Ligue 1 returns on 13th January.
December was a surprise for Kevin Mbabu in Switzerland. He picked up no cards! Not one single yellow card! Mbabu started November with a straight red card within moments of being brought on as a second half substitute goats APOEL Nicosia. In December, he started the month by scoring a header at the back post within 2 minutes of coming on as a second-half substitute as Young Boys defeated FC Basel 3-1. As a result of that red card in November though, he was still suspended for the final Europa League Group B game against FC Astana. Young Boys won the game 3-0 but despite their superior goal difference crashed out of the competition courtesy of their head to head record with Olympiacos who also finished with 8 points. The final game of 2016 saw Mbabu started at right back and provide a creative force by playing a low ball into the penalty area for Guillaume Hoarou’s 37th-minute equaliser against FC Thun. He was taken off by Adu Hutter to consolidate Young Boy’s 3-2 lead in the 75th minute which they held on to. Young Boys finished 2016 2nd place in the Swiss Super League on 35 points; 12 behind runaway leaders FC Basel. There is now no Swiss league action until February!
In Spain, December was uninspiring for Emmanuel Riviere and Osasuna. The Frenchman’s December consisted of 45 minutes game time; all of which came as a second-half substitute in the last La Liga game of the year; a 2-0 defeat at Deportivo La Coruna. In the two league games prior to that, he was not present. He was not in the match-day squad for Osasuna’s 3-1 defeat at Sporting Dijon and was an unused substitute when Barcelona visited and left with a 3-0 win. Osasuna had ended November with a 1-0 defeat at Granada in the Copa del Rey intermediate Stage. The only bright spark of the month was that they were able to overturn that with a 2-0 win in the second leg. Their reward was a round of 16 ties with SD Eibar while they finished the year bottom of La Liga with 7 points; 5 adrift of 17th place Valencia.
Back in England, Adam Armstrong similarly struggled for game time in December. He registered only 16 minutes in Barnsley’s 2-0 victory at Oakwell over Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day. That was all the game time he got. Armstrong was not in Paul Heckingbottom’s match day squad for the previous three games as Barnsley picked up 6 points from a possible 9. Barnsley defeated Norwich City 2-1 at Oakwell before being defeated at Hillsborough by Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 before defeating Cardiff City 4-3. Armstrong started and ended the month as he started it; an unused substitute. In those two games, Barnsley defeated Birmingham City 3-0 at St Andrew’s and were brought back to a 2-2 draw at Oakwell, having been 2-0 up against the same opposition on New Year’s Eve. Barnsley finished 2016 with 35 points and in 9th place in the Championship.
Six of Newcastle’s eight players out on loan in League’s One and Two were involved in the Second Round of the FA Cup. Of these six, only two progressed to the Third Round. Sammy Ameobi featured as Bolton wanderers defeated Sheffield United 3-2 at the Macron Stadium. He scored Bolton’s second goal of the game at the start of the second half with a curling effort from 25 yards out after some great pressure on the Sheffield United defence. Having seen highlights of that game, though, it really should have been 4. Alex Gilled was involved as Luton Town eased past Solihull 6-2 at Kenilworth Road. Ivan Toney featured in Shrewsbury Town’s efforts of getting into the Third Round. Though they were in the draw having been held to a 0-0 draw at home with Fleetwood Town, hence a replay. They lost the subsequent replay 3-2. The remainder of Newcastle’s players did not get onto the pitch in the second round. Jamie Sterry was not in the Coventry City match day squad when they fell to a 4-0 defeat at Cambridge United. Kyle Cameron was not involved as Newport County did well to take Plymouth Argyle to a replay which they unfortunately lost. Hartlepool United lost at port Vale 4-0 without Tom Heardman while Macauley Gillesphey was an unused substitute as Carlisle were defeated 2-0 by Rochdale at Brunton Park.
For the Third Round, Bolton’s reward for defeating Sheffield United was a home draw against Premier League Crystal Palace, now managed by disgraced ex-England manager Sam Allardyce. Luton Town were drawn against Accrington Stanley. As a sign of what some of these loan players could have earned themselves. Kyle Cameron if he was involved could have aided Newport County to a third round draw with Liverpool while Jamie Sterry could have helped Coventry City faced off against Leeds United while Toney’s Shrewsbury Town would have earned a tie against Championship opposition in Bristol City. They were so close but yet so far from a big pay day. However, it could wally have been a tie against lower league opposition as Carlisle’s conquerers; Rochdale were drawn against Barrow.
In League One, Sammy Ameobi featured heavily as Bolton wanderers collected 9 points from a possible 12. The only game he did not play the full 90 minutes was the clash with Gillingham which was televised as part of Sky Sports 10 in 10. Despite not playing the whole game, Ameobi did leave his mark by scoring a thunderous fourth goal for Phil Parkinson’s side as they won 4-0. Bolton’s following games saw them lose 1-0 at Chesterfield before closing out 2016 with 2-1 league wins over Shrewsbury Town and Scunthorpe United. Bolton finished the year in 2nd place in League One with 49 points, 1 less than leaders Sheffield United.
With 39 points and in 5th place in League One at the end of 2016 was Bradford City. Haris Vuckic played the final 8 minutes of Bradford’s 2016 schedule, a 1-1 draw at Valley parade against Bury. Whilst others in the League started December with FA Cup second round matches, Bradford had the weekend off due to their elimination in the First Round and they started the month with an EFL trophy tie the following midweek. Vickic played just over an hour of the tie as Bradford defeated Cambridge United 1-0. The first league game of December saw Vuckic be an unused substitute as Bradford could only manage a goalless draw with Charlton Athletic before playing the final 22 minutes at Walsall as they managed a 1-1 draw. He was, however, not in the squad for Bradford’s Boxing Day draw with Scunthorpe before playing the dying minutes of the New Years Eve encounter.
At Coventry City, Jamie Sterry had a relatively quiet month. On top of not playing in the FA Cup tie with Cambridge United, Sterry was also not involved in the midweek EFL trophy tie with Crawley Town; a 1-0 win for Coventry at the Ricoh Arena. He also sat out league defeats to Southend United 3-1 and Sheffield United 2-1. Then, Sterry featured prominently in the final two games of the month: a 4-1 defeat at Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day and a 1-1 draw with Peterborough United a London Road. The draw with Peterborough meant Coventry picked up only 1 point out of 12 in the league and finished 2016 with 20 points in total; 23rd in League One.
Also finishing in the League One relegation zone with 21 points and only 1 away from safety was Shrewsbury Town. That is despite picking up 6 points in December. The first of those points came at the Den as Shrewsbury travelled to Millwall and came away with a 1-0 win. The goal came from Louis Dodds in the 17th minute with the assist coming from Newcastle’s Ivan Toney after the pair exchanged a delightful couple of passes. Toney had picked up a yellow card in each of the FA Cup games with Fleetwood Town and was consequently suspended for the following two league games. In his absence, Shrewsbury defeated Bristol Rovers at home 2-0 and were defeated 2-1 at Bolton. He returned on new Year’s Eve but his 86th-minute goal was no more than a constellation as Rochdale saw out a 2-1 win.
In League Two, Alex Gilliead and Macauley Gillesphey faced each other as their respective loan clubs; Luton Town and Carlisle United faced off. both were second half substitutes for their sides with Gilled getting just under half an hour while Gillesphey played the final 20 minutes. In the build up to that clash, Gilliead was not involved in Luton’s 3-2 victory at Swindon Town in the EFL Trophy. Gilled featured in Luton’s other league games as they defeated Blackpool 2-0 at Bloomfield Road, fell to a 1-0 home defeat to Colchester United and finished the year scoring Luton’s third goal of the game in their 3-1 victory over Barnet. Before the Luton clash, Gillesphey played the full game as Carlisle fell out of the EFL Trophy with a 1-0 defeat at home against Mansfield Town. After the Luton game, Gilllesphey played every minute of Carlisle’s December as they picked up 7 points from their remaining three games. The first was a 2-1 victory at burnt Park over Yeovil Town, a 1-1 draw at Crewe Alexandra on Boxing Day and a 3-2 victory over Notts County on New Years Eve. Carlisle finished 2016 2nd place in League Two with 46 points while Luton Town had 38 points in 5th place.
Kyle Cameron did not feature at all for Newport County in December. So, as well as missing out on the FA Cup tie with Plymouth Argyle. Cameron missed all four league games as they failed to pick up a single point. Newport were defeated 2-0 by Stevenage, 3-1 by Crawley Town, 3-2 by Portsmouth in Boxing Day and 4-1 at Exeter City on New Year’s Eve as Newport finished 2016 bottom of the Football League with 17 points; 5 from safety. Meanwhile, Hartlepool finished 2016 17th in League Two with 26 points without Tom Headman. His loan spell must have finished early as he featured for Newcastle’s Under23 side in December. His supposed loan club though picked up 4 points in December; a credible draw at Portsmouth and a 3-2 victory over Morecambe. They lost the other two league games to 1-0 to Blackpool on Boxing Day and responded to their 4-0 hammering in the FA Cup with a 5-0 hammering at the hands of Cambridge United.
Rowan’s Monthly Awards
Well, it’s that time where I give my ego a boost and think I’m actually important. Jokes aside, I have selected a few titled categories regarding Newcastle United’s December.
Goal of the Month: Dwight Gayle 63rd vs Nottingham Forest, 2-1
This is a hard one! For me, it is between Matt Ritchie’s goal at the City Ground or Dwight Gayle’s first against the same opposition at the end of the month. Ritchie’s strike was sublime, getting the contact on the ball that he did at the first time of asking and getting it into the corner is certainly not easy. However, I’m going with Gayle’s strike against the same goalkeeper at St James’. Opportunistic as it was pouncing on the loose ball, but to connect with it so sweetly on the volley and get it into the net with such ferocity and from such a tight angle is incredible!
Save of the month: Karl Darlow vs Steven Fletcher
Which one? Karl Darlow produced a number of impressive saves in December. There was the double penalty saves at Forest to deny Nicklas Bendtner and then Henri Lansbury on the brink of half-time is incredible. Then, there’s his fantastic performance against Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day. It’s from this game I’m going to pick and it’s the point blank save to deny Fletcher in the second half. The save to deny Fletcher’s volley in the first half seconds earlier was impressive considering the number of bodies between him and the striker but it was at a good height for him to save. His save to deny Foorestieri seconds earlier was also considered but missed out due to the defence around him to clear the loose ball afterwards. The save to deny Fletcher in the second half wins it as he made himself big and anticipated well where the ex-Sunderland striker would place the ball to keep out what really should have been the opener.
Player of the month: Dwight Gayle
This one was a two horse race between Dwight Gayle and Karl Darlow for me. Darlow’s high points included that double penalty saves at the City Ground and his heroics on Boxing Day against Sheffield Wednesday even if both games ended in defeat. However, I have given it to Gayle purely because he scored more goals (6) and provided more assists (2) than any other Newcastle player in December. He was more than a poacher in December with his link up play superbly linking up well with Yoan Gouffran for his goal against Birmingham and Diame’s against Burton. Then there’s that volley against Nottingham Forest at the Gallowgate end!
Disappointing player of the month: Jonjo Shelvey
The reason for this: the 5 game ban after being found guilty of the FA misconduct charge that has been hanging over his head for a while now. The reason he takes this ‘Disappointing player of the Month’ title is that just after two games of his five-game suspension, Newcastle United look a completely different side. They look incapable of opening up defences and if you were going to be harsh, only defeated Nottingham Forest due to the sending off of Matt Mills. It is disappointing that a player who is the only creative central midfielder at the club to have gotten himself in a position to be banned for 5 games and that is why he has this one.
Loser of the Month: Jonjo Shelvey
For the same reasons given above.
Surprise Player of the Month: Mohamed Diame
It might sound odd to say I was surprised with Mohamed Diame seeing as though he has been a big part of Rafa Benitez’s plans this season since he signed from Hull in August. However, it was his level of influence on Newcastle’s performances in December that surprised me. His goals against Wigan and Burton both showcased his physical strength and pace while the way he changed the dimension of Newcastle’s attacking play in the final game of the month against Forest demonstrated why Benitez signed him. After a slow start where it seemed like he couldn’t hit a barn door, Diame came into his own in December and that’s one thing I did not see coming.
Missing Player of the Month: Grant Hanley
Just where has Grant Hanley been? I know his performance for Scotland against England in November was perhaps not his most impressive but he hasn’t been on a football pitch since! He wasn’t even named on the bench for a single Newcastle game in member and with no known injuries sustained by the centre back, I think it’s clear he isn’t in Benitez’s plans.
Worst moment of the Month: Stephan Martin’s performance at Nottingham Forest
The defeats against Nottingham Forest ad Sheffield Wednesday were low points of Newcastle’s December. However, for my worst moment of the month, I have to go with the defeat to Forest and the referring of Stephan Martin. Not to be confused with the Hollywood actor, Martin’s eagerness to produce two red cards, as understandable as they were but give none of Newcastle’s appeals made this result a low point in particular.
Moment of the Month: Revenge on Forest
My Worst moment of the month brings me to the moment of the month. Newcastle were able to gain revenge on Nottingham Forest in the final game of the month and in similar circumstances.The build-up to the game was the rhetoric of payback and redemption. Newcastle duly delivered but ironically had the assistance of referee Keith Stroud in a quick double yellow card dismissal of Forest captain Matt Mills as Newcastle went on to utilise the extra space to win 3-1 and finish 2016 top of the Championship.
Where in the Championship Table were Newcastle United at the end of December 2016?
Newcastle United came into December top of the Championship with 40 points; 1 ahead of Brighton & Hove Albion in second place. They ended December top of the Championship having added 12 points to that total. They remained top of the table courtesy of Brighton having to postpone their league game with Cardiff City due to immense fog on Friday 30th December. A rearranged date has not yet been set for that game but if Brighton were to capitalise on their game in hand it would put them 2 points ahead of Newcastle.
Newcastle entered 2017 with 9 points between them in top spot and 3rd place. 9 points between an automatic return to the Premier League and the dreaded play-offs. Newcastle and the honour of being top of the table at Christmas, a position that no side has failed to convert into promotion since Watford in 2006. The 2007/08 Watford side did manage to finish in the top 6 but fell at the play-off hurdle. They are also the only side in the past ten years to fail to finish in the top 2. Those are good signs for an immediate return to the Premier League but in what position? That’s for 2017 to decide.
Rowan’s NUFC January Wishlist
January brings about one thing in football: Winter Transfer Window time. In this time football clubs have the whole month (depending on their national FA’s timetable for the window) to strengthen their squads to add that little bit extra to their squads in a push for the league title, promotions or a last-gasp lifeline to try and save off relegation.
This month is often referred to as ‘silly season’ where some of the deals made are ludicrous. For example, £35 million on deadline day for Andy Carroll. Last Year Newcastle adventured into this ’silly season’ by spending £30 million in a bid to prevent relegation on the likes of Jonjo Shelvey, Andros Townsend, Henri Saivet and Seydou Doumbia. The investment last season was desperately needed in defence in my opinion but it seemed the club were content on scoring their way out of trouble; something they couldn’t do either.
Newcastle came into January top of the Championship and firmly in the battle for the Championship title and promotion straight back to the Premier League. Despite the strong position, there are areas I feel Rafa Benitez can invest to strengthen his squad. I stress, this is my opinion and if you disagree then by please feel free to comment. Anyways, here is my checklist of things I’d like to see in January:
- A Creative midfielder: Newcastle United already have a midfielder who can split a defence with his passing creativity in Jonjo Shelvey but that also highlights the issue. They only have Shelvey. There is a need for at least a player as a back-up or to give him competition. Newcastle have not been the same side without Shelvey in the side. According to Sky Sports, Newcastle have enquired abut the possibility of taking Ruben Loftus-Cheek on loan. He wassomewhat of a revelation in the Premier League for Chelsea under Guus Hiddink last season. He played 13 games for the Dutchman and created 4 chances for his teammates which I don’t think is bad when you’re putting him in alongside the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian. If Chelsea were to block this move, I would like to see Newcastle go for someone like Tottenham Hotspur’s Tom Carroll on loan. If Rafa were to look into purchasing a player then Brentford Town’s Alan Judge has been linked. According to the Evening Chronicle, he would have cost Newcastle £10 million in the summer but due to his injury problems he could be available for £600,000. If that price were to be accurate then that would be decent value.
Loan singing: Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tom Carroll
Permanent signing: Darren Gibson, Alan Judge
2. Cheick you later: With his contract expiring in the summer, only 15 minutes game time to his name this season and effectively £50,000 per week going to waste on his wages; surely it’s time Newcastle and Cheik Tiote part ways. Newcastle won’t be in as strong a bargaining position over player valuation as they were in the summer where this was the stumbling block as one or two potential transfers fell through. With less than 6 months remaining on his contract, none-domestic clubs (non-British clubs) could offer him a pre-contract agreement otherwise known as a Bosman and he joins them in the summer having seen out the last of the 6-year deal he signed in 2011.
3. Pending futures: On that note, it is more than just Cheik Tiote who has his contract with Newcastle expiring in the summer and could leave for nothing then either when it expires or through a Bosman. The players in the final 6 months of their contracts are Vernon Anita, Yoan Gouffran, Sammy Ameobi and Haris Vuckic. While I think the latter two are extremely unlikely to be retained unless they manage to prove themselves in the second half of the season, if Benitez wants to keep a hold of Anita and Gouffran, he needs to play his hand sooner rather than later.
4. Stave off Premier League interest: Perhaps a big part of Newcastle’s January window while be keeping the big performers that have been integral to Rafa Benitez’s squad. It has been almost customary for a big name player to leave in every odd January Window under Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club with examples including Shay Given’s departure in 2009, Andy Carroll in 2011, Demba Ba in 2013 and Yohan Cabaye in 2014. However, if a bottom 5 side in the Premier League come in for any of the likes of Jamaal laceless, Matt Ritchie or Dwight Gayle etc; the club stands firm. The one big fear I have is with Lascelles with various media outlets in December attributing Chelsea and Liverpool with an interest. Surely Mike Ashley won’t be stupid enough to give Benitez the same treatment he did Keegan and a lesser extent Pardew (lesser extent because he accepted it) and do a deal behind his back?
5. Christian Atsu Permanent: This is a vague thought. When Newcastle agreed on the loan deal for Christian Atsu in the summer, there was also an option to buy clause in the event Newcastle gained promotion back to the Premier League. If it proved possible that Antonio Conte would e prepared to allow him to leave permanently early then this is something I think Benitez could look at as a statement of intent going into the second half of the season and the Premier League next season.
6. An Attacking Midfielder: Rafa Benitez seems to like having an attacking midfielder in his starting line up, just off the main striker. So far this season, he has played Mohamed Diame and Ayoze Perez there; neither player is a natural player in that position. With Diame travelling to the African Cup of Nations in January, this is perhaps an area Benitez might want to strengthen. One player who I think could be in Newcastle’s price range is 29-year-old Zlatko Junuzovic currently at Werder Bremen. Yes, the name is a mouthful and another concern is that he is currently suffering from calf problems. However, this guy almost single-handedly kept Bremen in the Bundesliga last season so this is a man who can be influential and win games. If Benitez wants to go for a loan singing then how about Josh Onomah at Tottenham Hotspur.
Permanent signing: Zlatko Junuzovic (Werder Bremen)
Loan signing: Josh Onomah (Tottenham Hotspur)
7. A Winger? With Rolando Aarons injured until an unknown date. Christian Atsu going to the African Cup of Nations with Ghana and the future of Yoan Gouffran unknown, I believe at least one winger will be on Benitez’s shopping list. Hull City’s Robert Snodgrass has been linked by the Daily Star. I seriously do not want to comment on the credibility of this tabloid but Snodgrass was my first shout for a potential winger to sign. He has been one of Hull’s best performer this season and with the club deep in a relegation battle would they part ways? It’s highly unlikely but his familiarity of playing with Matt Ritchie on the other wing having been teammates with Scotland would be a boost to Newcastle. Another player Newcastle could try looking at is Leon Bailey from KRC Genk but surely he’ll be looking at their Europa League tie with Tottenham Hotspur to bring himself to the attention of English clubs for a move in the summer. My other suggestion would have been Ademola Lookman before he made the move from league One Charlton Athletic to the Premier League with Everton.
8. Defence: This one is a very low priority in my view. With Chancel Mbemba going to the African Cup of Nations with DR Congo, Benitez will be short of a centre back. Looking at the stats from December though I don’t think Benitez will be hugely phased by this having not played him or Grant Hanley. If an issue occurs with his preferred pairing of Lascelles and Clark then Benitez does have Hanley to drop back to in Mbemba’s absence. Also, there is Kyle Cameron returning from his loan spell with Newport County and Lubo Satka in the reserves if Benitez believe’s the squad can cope. If not,
January 2017 sees Newcastle start the year, two days in with a trip to Ewood Park and enact payback on Owen Coyle’s side for the 1-0 defeat they suffered at St James’ Park in November. After that, Newcastle enter the FA Cup with a visit to St Andrew’s to face Birmingham City, now under a new manager in Gianfranco Zola. After that, Newcastle travels to Brentford Town the following weekend before hosting Rotherham United at St James’ Park on the 21st. Progression for either side n the FA Cup will see the final league game of the month (an away day to the AMEXStadium to face Brighton) postponed as the Fourth Round ties take place in the fan weekend of January.