Newcastle 3 Swansea 0 Saturday 16 April 3pm
After weeks of saying United were down if they didn’t produce a result, this time I really, really meant it.
Many will have struggled to accept that Sunderland’s win at Carrow Road was a good result, but it was surely the best outcome as we headed into the last chance saloon against a Swansea side with nothing tangible to play for.
After an apparent inquest following the game at St Mary’s, there seems to be a bit more bite about the team as they had the best of the early exchanges. Townsend looked particular lively down the right, with his speculative effort ending a probing attack, unfortunately Fabianski gathered easily.
The revamped Newcastle team seemed set up for a patient approach, with Tiote and Colback both anchoring the midfield while Anita took on full back duties. The steady, controlled approach has worked well for Benitez at his various clubs, but with our defence it will always create palpitations.
Furthermore, we had a pretty perfect opponent to get stuck into. Swansea were safe from relegation with nowhere to go in the table and coming off the back of a relatively poor season. For most of the game they seemed to lack urgency and if this game pans out to be a key turning point, then the generosity of the fixture computer is a definite factor.
Newcastle’s caution and the visitors’ lackadaisical approach, combined to produce an uneventful first half, with Tiote and the returning Dummett effective in destroying most Jacks attacks while Cisse battled away on his own up front, producing the odd trademark offside.
Wijnaldum was apparently playing but his contribution was so shockingly anonymous I’m not even sure where he was supposed to be standing.
With half-time approaching, a lifeline was suddenly thrown our way, and for me there couldn’t have been a better scorer. Jamaal Lascelles magnificently brutal assessment of the sorry state of affairs after St Mary’s was underscored by a solid showing at the back today, but his untidy goal was a thing of beauty in many ways.
With Townsend delivering the previously unheard of concept of a decent corner, Lascelles found himself having his shirt pulled to bits by Gylfi Sigurdsson. Rather than tumble to the deck, young Jamaal just shrugged the Icelander off and powered a header through Fabianski, following in as though he’d boot the goalie in the net after it, if he didn’t get out of his way.
The understated trot back to the centre seemed to suggest an air of “this is all still not good enough” and suddenly I realised that we may have one with a semblance of the right attitude.
The second half returned to form as the unspectacular reigned, but the less that happened, the more you began to entertain the (daft) thought that one might be enough. Ironically, it was in finally taking a more attacking approach that things nearly went wrong, which maybe gives an indication why Rafa is a top football manager and I am just some punter.
Shelvey will have been unhappy at being benched for this one, following his acrimonious departure from today’s opponents, so he came on with a point to prove for the final 20 minutes. However, the removal of the efficiently destructive Tiote may have allowed the Swans a bit more attacking space, as five terrifying minutes brought three near misses. Williams blasting high and wide when we’ll-placed was a let off, but Montero seemed certain to score when one on one with Darlow moments later. From my seat it looked like a shocking miss, but replays showed Darlow did well to get in his face so quick, doing enough to force the error.
Finally, after what felt like five years of fruitlessly pursuing Bafetembi Gomis, it has been an unhappy series of meetings with the Frenchman since he moved to Wales of all places. When he fashioned a shooting opportunity you could sense the abject terror but fortunately the goal was way too small for him.
This was real nervy stuff as a standard patent NUFC chuck away seemed imminent. Fortunately, another substitution calmed the situation down, as Mitrovic proceeded to rage around up front chasing every ball and savaging the Swans defence. His link up with Perez brought a corner and the Mitro’s power header from another fine Townsend delivery fell neatly for Sissoko to blast home.
I read elsewhere that Sissoko ‘couldn’t have picked a better time to score his first goal of the season’, I would argue that he could: August.
The relief here was colossal. With less than ten minutes you could optimistically allow yourself a relax as Rafa was serenaded with “Happy Birthday” on the day he turned 56. In the final minute it got even better as Mitrovic played in Townsend to attack again up the right and roll it past Fabianski from a tight angle.
Suddenly, it was all back on. The ominous task of beating Manchester City could be rewarded by an emergence on the right side of the dreaded dotted line.
Alternatively, this could be another false dawn against an underwhelming opponent going through a transitional period. Either way, we now have hope. It may come to fruition, or it may be the thing that hurts more than anything.
Tuesday night can’t come quick enough.
Here are the stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 3 Swansea 0
Newcastle: Lascelles 40, Sissoko 82,Townsend 89
Possession was Newcastle 34% Swansea 66%
Total shots were Newcastle 12 and Swansea 11
Shots on target were Newcastle 7 and Swansea 1
Corners were Newcastle 3 and Swansea 7
Team: Darlow, Anita, Lascelles, Mbemba, Dummett, Townsend, Tiote (Shelvey 66), Colback,Sissoko,Wijnaldum (Perez 73), Cisse (Mitrovic 80)
Unused Subs: Woodman, Aarons, Obertan, de Jong
Ref: Lee Mason