Even before kick-off for the ninth round of Premier League fixtures, the league had its second managerial casualty of the season. Leicester City parted company with Craig Shakespeare after only 6 months in charge following their 1-1 draw with West Brom. Quite naturally, they won their next game; 2-1 at Swansea City. There were also shocks as Brighton won their first away game in the Premier League defeating West Ham 3-0 prompting speculation over the future of manager Slaven Bilic while Huddersfield Town defeated Manchester United 2-1. Chelsea narrowly avoided another scare coming back to defeat Watford 4-2 at Stamford Bridge. Super Sunday threw up the anticipated classics of Everton vs Arsenal; the away side winning 5-2 at Goodison Park and Tottenham Hotspur defeating Liverpool 4-1 at Wembley.
Unfortunately, as a Newcastle United fan, I find myself discussing one of the low scoring games and arguably the one of least quality as it took 73 minutes for either side to register a shot on target. It was perhaps fitting then that England head coach Gareth Southgate was in attendance and no sighting of Amanda Staveley after the businesswoman entered a period of ‘due diligence’ in the days leading up to the game.
Rafa Benitez named an unchanged side for the second time this season after the 2-2 draw with Southampton at St Mary’s. Florian Lejeune retained his place in central defence alongside captain Jamaal Lascelles despite conceding the penalty on the south coast with DeAndre Yedlin and Javier Manquillo the full-backs. Mainstay Rob Elliott remained in goal. Isaac Hayden also retained his place in midfield alongside Jonjo Shelvey having scored the opener at Southampton while in the attacking midfield three were Matt Ritchie, Ayoze Perez and Christian Atsu. Joselu remained up front. The only change Benitez made was enforced by an injury to former Crystal Palace man Dwight Gayle; Aleksandar Mitrovic replaced him on the bench.
Crystal Palace arrived at St James’ Park bottom of the Premier League table but on a high having defeated reigning champions Chelsea 2-1 last time out. Following the victory, former England boss Roy Hodgson named an unchanged lineup for his fifth game in charge (Frank de Boer only got four). That meant a 4-4-2 formation but without a recognised striker due to Christian Benteke’s absence. In his stead, Wilfred Zaha and with former Newcastle man Andros Townsend started up front. In midfield, there was another former Newcastle player in playmaker Yohan Cabaye who was joined in midfield by Jeffrey Schlupp, Luka Milivojevic and James McArthur. Julian Speroni remained in goal with a back four of Patrick van Aanholt, Mamadou Sakho, Scott Dann and Joel Ward. Wayne Hennessey was back to full fitness and was on the substitutes bench.
The first half was rather lacking in quality. If anything, Palace seemed the most likely to score as the pace of Townsend and Zaha proved dangerous on the counter-attack. Lascelles was often equal to the through balls but the away side came close when Zaha placed a low cross across goal but was stopped by the left hand of Elliott. Schlupp also came close while Zaha headed wide with their last chance of the half. Matt Ritchie had an effort deflected wide for a corner in the 25th minute while Atsu found the side netting just after the half-hour mark.
The major talking point came in the 27th minute when Cabaye slid in with a late challenge on Yedlin from behind. With the US international rolling in agony and the home crowd calling for a red card, referee Stuart Attwell produced only a yellow card. The player’s facial expression said it all, Cabaye was lucky to stay on the pitch and he knew it. On another day, that is a red card. Lascelles was infuriated with the decision and got himself a yellow card for dissent.
As the rain came pouring down, the second half was much of the same really as Palace again looked the more threatening of the two sides but nothing came of it. Van Aanholt had a couple of efforts but they were nearer the corner flag than the goal while Zaha and Townsend both missed the target. Benitez blinked first in bringing on Mikel Merino in the 56th minute but it was the introduction of Mohamed Diame that seemed to turn the game.
From the 67th minute, Newcastle seemed to have more about them. The midfielder produced the first shot on target which was comfortably saved by Speroni and Shelvey’s stinging effort from 30 yards a few minutes later proving more difficult for the goalkeeper. Newcastle continued upping the tempo with Atsu giving Dann a hard hit to the face with one of his shots before the decisive moment four minutes from time. Ritchie’s inswinging corner was met by merino who headed the ball past Speroni and into the net off the crossbar for his first Newcastle goal to win the game.
It was not the greatest of games nor performances from Newcastle United. However, the result and the three points are the important things at the end of the day which Benitez’s side got. With that in mind, there is perhaps more lessons learned and positives from this game than negatives despite the poor quality of the game itself…
Gears to go through
One of the major things the game against Palace showed is that this Newcastle United side can indeed grind out a result when the performance is not so good and can go through the gears to up the tempo in order to secure said result. For much of the game, Newcastle had been unconvincing as Palace looked the more dangerous side and it was only in the final 20 minutes they seemed to pose a serious attacking threat to the visitors. However, Newcastle were able to find an extra level of their performance and did just enough to nick the win four minutes from the end. Yes, the performance was far from great but this is the sort of games that define a good side. A good side will find a way to win even if they have not performed well and it is in my belief a good side Benitez is building at St James’ even if he did not get the funding he required in the transfer window.
No love for Townsend
Football supporters rarely applaud a former player when they return to their old stomping ground and that was the case for Andros Townsend. The former Newcastle man was booed and heckled by some sections of the home support with every touch of the ball who do not forgive him for leaving the club following relegation to the Championship. I for one did not boo him and personally, I thought it harsh. Townsend did not try to force through a transfer away in the manner a certain Moussa Sissoko did and left through a £13 million release clause in his contract which Palace left. He is thought to have enjoyed life in Newcastle but he still had aspirations of playing for England however, I think he would still be a Newcastle player if not for that clause.
Diame and the bust-up
When midfielder Mohamed Diame came on for Ayoze Perez, some fans may have been questioning what Benitez was thinking. Diame was recently involved in a training ground bust-up with Lascelles after it is thought the captain labelled him ‘lazy’. The midfielder has admittedly previously his performances for Newcastle have not been up to standard. However, against Palace, Diame seemed full of energy, pressed the opposition high up and looked a lively goal threat having produced the first shot on target in the 73rd minute. His performance did not seem so lacklustre compared to the previous occasions I’ve seen him play suggesting the bust-up was the kick up the backside Diame needed.
Talking Point: Could it have been red for Cabaye?
The home crowd were calling for it but referee Stuart Attwell did not get it out and opted for a yellow card instead. However, should Yohan Cabaye have seen a red card for that challenge on DeAndre Yedlin in the 27th minute?
Dermott Gallagher; Premier League referee 1992-2007, ‘My first reaction was that this warranted a red card. Ironically, I thought the referee’s reaction was the same, seeing as he’s run over so fast, put his hand to his top pocket and given the impression he’s going to brandish a red. However, after the tackle there was a long delay, and I wonder if the referee ran the incident through his mind, noted that Cabaye didn’t go whizzing through the air or go in two-footed so gave him the benefit of the doubt. My gut reaction was that it was a red card and Cabaye was very lucky to stay on the field’
Phil Neville; 505 Premier League appearances for Manchester United and Everton 1994-2013, ‘I think he’s a lucky, lucky boy to stay on the field, I thought it was a leg breaker, he comes in from the side, his feet are off the ground, he comes in with a scissor motion and I think he’s so lucky to stay on the field, that was a dangerous, dangerous tackle’
Jermaine Jenas; 110 appearances for Newcastle United 2002-2005, ‘It’s a straight red card, I don’t know why he’s gone so high, that’s a red card’
The fact I cannot find a single former referee or pundit agree with the decision perhaps says it all in regards to the Cabaye tackle.
Newcastle were arguably lucky to have Yedlin avoid a sending off at Southampton in the previous fixture and not playing against a 10 man Crystal palace could be interpreted as some as the two decisions balancing each other out. However, that is not the point and two wrongs do not make a right. The rules of law should be applied consistently no matter what the occasion. Yedlin should have been sent off against Southampton and Cabaye should have been sent off against Newcastle. Cabaye came in from behind on Yedlin which was dangerous and reckless whether he was aiming for the ball or not (he was late). He does not have two feet off the ground which might have saved Cabaye but since when did having both feet off the ground constitute the only criteria for a red card. The tackle could easily have had more severe consequences for Yedlin but thankfully he was able to carry on. However, that does not make it right.
Unnecessary bookings Newcastle United picked up four yellow cards against Crystal Palace. Not all of them were necessary. Captain Jamaal Lascelles found himself in the book for after being a vocal voice in the aftermath of Cabaye’s challenge on Yedlin. This was needless really as regardless of what Lascelles said, it was perhaps something that may have been in the referee’s mind already after Lascelles presence in Yedlin himself avoiding a second yellow at Southampton. Stuart Attwell may well have had that at the back of his mind. Although this Newcastle side has proven they have more depth than previous Newcastle sides, these yellow cards could prove costly as the season progresses.
Approach to the game
For the most part, the Newcastle team did not seem up to it. For a team playing bottom of the table at home, you may have expected a more positive, attack-minded performance from the off. That did not happen until the final 20 minutes as Newcastle seemed to have a more defensive approach. Benitez may have been wary of the threat posed by the likes of Andros Townsend (a player he knows well) and Zaha. The approach was perhaps typified by the selection of Isaac Hayden though his retention was merited through his goal at Southampton. Other than that, the attack-minded, pressing high up the pitch we have seen from Newcastle in other games just was not there. Whether or not it was tactical or not a great day at the office for the Newcastle, the approach to the game was not good.
With Dwight Gayle unable to face his former club due to injury, Aleksandar Mitrovic was named on the substitutes bench. The Serbian was given his first-team appearance since the West Ham game at the end of August. While he seemed fired up and even took one for the team (quite literally) which is what fans like to see, he took almost too far in injury time when he pushed… from behind in injury time. At the time of writing, I have no knowledge of any retrospective action from the FA but serves as a reminder that Mitrovic can be careless in his actions.
The defence was pretty solid against Crystal Palace and it had to be as the away side created 10 chances to Newcastle’s 7. Palace looked to the pace of Zaha and Townsend to hit Newcastle on the counter when they could and on set pieces, the inswinging deliveries caused the defence problems but cleared their lines throughout. It may not have been totally effective as clearances often found their way to a Palace player but a good sign of any defence is that they keep a clean sheet (Newcastle’s third of the season) and the goalkeeper doesn’t have a shot to stop. That is probably down more to the ineffective finishing of the away side. Overall though, the defence did well which was highlighted by the fact Newcastle have only conceded three goals at home in the league; both finished in the top four last season and have the 4th strongest defence in the league in terms of goals against.
Mikel Merino has proved to be a hit with the fans on Tyneside since joining initially on-loan from Borussia Dortmund during the summer. Having made the move permanent during the international break, the Spanish U21 international has not been back in the starting line up. The reasons may well have been tactical but they did not prove popular decisions with some Newcastle fans who were frustrated with the Spaniard not being in the starting line up. However, when he did come on in the second half, he helped change the game in Newcastle’s favour and had the decisive say on proceedings by heading past Speroni. From his start to life at Newcastle, the only thing missing from his game was a goal and regardless of any Palace player getting the very first contact on the ball, a goal is a goal and hopefully, it will help his confidence and see him score a few more before the season ends.
Last season, Newcastle were the most prolific team in the Championship from set-piece situations, scoring 25 times. This season, Benitez’s side have scored 3 goals from set-pieces; each of them proving to be match winners. It accounts for 30% of the Magpies Premier League goal tally so far this season indicating that set-pieces are going to be an important part of Newcastle’s season.
Wingers changing flanks
One element of the attacking dynamic Newcastle rediscovered in the final 20 minutes was, I think through the wingers changing flanks. Christian Atsu moved to the right-wing while Matt Ritchie moved to the left. I expressed the opinion earlier in the season that Atsu may be better suited on the left flank. I still stand by that view. He was ineffective on the right against Huddersfield. Granted that was one game and Atsud does play on the right more often than not for Ghana. However, in this team, I think it most effective when they chop and change during the game as a ploy to use on opposition defenders. Atsu and Ritchie certainly seemed more effective in this game when they changed flanks and Scott Dann can testify to that having taken a shot from Atsu to the face.
Match Facts and Stats
|Newcastle United||Crystal Palace|
|Shots on Target||3||0|
|Shots off target||1||7|
|Clear cut chances||0||0|
|Pass completion rate||79.9%||71.5%|
• Victory for Newcastle coupled with results elsewhere meant all three of the promoted sides won this weekend; making it the best start from the promoted sides in a 20 team premier league season.
• St James’ Park is quickly becoming a fortress under Rafa Benitez with the Spaniard managing Newcastle to only one defeat in their previous 10 top-flight games at home.
• For Cyrstal Palace, failure to score meant they have failed to do so in their previous 7 away Premier League games, their most barren spell.
• Mikel Merino bagged his first goal in club football since scoring for Osasuna in June 2016; in that time he has moved clubs twice in that time.
• Newcastle United have now beaten Crystal palace 8 times in their 13 Premier League meetings; Palace winning only two (that second being a 5-1 defeat of Newcastle at Selhurst Park in November 2015) and the remaining three resulting in draws
League Table and what next?
Victory at St James’ park lifted Newcastle United to 6th in the Premier League table but that did not last due to Arsenal’s 5-2 victory at Everton the next day lifted the Gunners above the Magpies. They ended the weekend in 7th though on 14 points; only 1 point off the European places. Crystal Palace meanwhile remained rooted to the bottom of the table with only three points from their first nine games, a goal difference of -17 and five points adrift of safety.
Next up for Newcastle is a Monday Night Football to Turf Moor to face Sean Dyche’s Burnley who have been more impressive away from home so far this term. Both sides will be hoping to avoid a Halloween style nightmare performance!