Newcastle 4 Reading 1 – Wednesday 18 August 2016 7.45pm
Being a deep thinker and all, I couldn’t help but wonder, as I exited St James Park on a balmy summer night, exactly how would this game be viewed in years to come?
Could it be the day the Championship campaign belatedly ground into gear, a win from which we never looked back?
Or will it be a frustrating false dawn in a season that has already been whispered about as “tougher than we expected” and apparently pre-judged as doomed to failure by Sky Sports experts watching the game. God, please be the first one.
The need to kickstart this programme into life was tangible at a relatively muted kick off and clearly transferred through to the players. Within two minutes Dwight Gayle had personified this desperation, punching a Perez cross into the Reading goal as the ground exploded. No flag or response from the ref, but the apoplectic visiting players surrounding the officials had the effect of reversing the decision, correctly but bizarrely, as players shouldn’t really be telling the referee they don’t want goals against them to stand.
This was only part of some welcome early pressure from United, who controlled the play and knocked the ball about in a way that wasn’t seen (or allowed by the opposition) against Huddersfield on Saturday. To give Reading their due, they seemed more interested in attempting a football match, and anyone trying that against our expensively assembled line-up is likely to come up short.
To take some of that credit away, Reading do appear to be a Championship version of Arsenal, brutally kicking opponents at every opportunity, while tossing themselves about like giant sillies when opponents approached them. Double-edged Cheaties I call them and I’m delighted this panned out in a way that didn’t allow them to destroy the final twenty minutes, in pursuit of a point or three.
For all the concern of the opening pair of defeats, the obvious positive for me has been Matt Ritchie, whose immediate settling in has been the driving force behind any positives so far. It was his well-worked free kick that brought the opener, playing two-touch with Anita to draw out the Reading wall. The subsequent ball in broke to Hayden, who had time to turn and finish amongst the displaced defence.
Unfortunately, this game did not all go as smoothly as the scoreline suggests. After a half hour in the ascendency, United took their foot off the gas and Beerens smashed the bar with Reading’s first real meaningful attack. The Royals continued the pressure for the remainder of the half, perhaps knowing that if they reached first-half injury time United would give them a goal.
Ciaran Clark marked his debut with a desperate lunge on John Swift. McCleary put the 46th minute penalty away and half-time arrived to boos and murmurs of discontent.
It would be inaccurate to say we bossed the second half as Reading looked up for a game throughout. However, their parity was short-lived as the ref evened up the penalty count within minutes of the restart, a foul on Gouffran from a corner bringing the blessed luck. After Gayle’s poor effort on Saturday it was a relief to see Ritchie confidently clutching the ball, and he belted it in like it was never in doubt.
It was almost roles reversed some twenty minutes later, as Ritchie and Gayle both approached a 25-yard free kick award with purpose. Perhaps surprisingly, it was our new number nine that smashed in a magnificent curling right-foot effort to palatable relief all round, as the elusive two-goal cushion was reached.
From here, Rafa began to make cautiously defensive substitutions, with Lascelles and Colback appearing when this looked a great opportunity to give Adam Armstrong a run. Still, United found the chance to stretch the lead as the excellent Hayden burst clear of the defence down the right before squaring for Gayle to tap in his second of the night.
Utter relief on a night where the result was the most important thing.
However, I saw nothing to suggest that transfer activity is not still essential if we are to turn this victory into the beginning of a surge back to the Premier League.
Let’s kick on from here please.
Here are the stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 4 Reading 1
Newcastle: Hayden 20, Ritchie 50 (pen), Gayle 69, 89
Reading: McCleary 45 (Pen)
Possession was Reading 58% Newcastle 42%
Total shots were Reading 13 Newcastle 11
Shots on target were Reading 3 Newcastle 7
Corners were Reading 9 Newcastle 2
Team: Sels, Anita, Clark, Mbemba, Dummett, Shelvey, Hayden, Ritchie (Aarons 90), Perez (Lascellles 76), Gouffran (Colback 84), Gayle
Unused Subs: Darlow, Janmaat, Hanley, Armstrong
Ref: Andy Madley
(To view our interactive Newcastle v Reading player ratings and to add your own go HERE.)
(To read the instant Newcastle fan/writer reaction to the match go HERE.)