Brentford 1 Newcastle 2 – Saturday 14 January 2017 3pm

Back at the top of the league again! At least for the moment.

It may have been another poor performance from Newcastle but to come away from Griffin Park on Saturday evening with 3 points, particularly in the manner in which we did, should be a huge confidence boost for the team.

While the irrelevant battle for top spot between Newcastle and Brighton continues, the important fact is that Newcastle sit 7 points ahead of third placed Leeds and on course for promotion… although there are a massive 20 games to go. To put that into context, there is still more than half of a Premier League season still to play, as well as a potential run to the FA Cup Final (ha ha).

Unfortunately though, the squad looks down to its bare bones at the moment, through a combination of the African Nations Cup, unfortunate injuries and the need to strengthen some areas in the transfer market.

This is highlighted by the inclusion of one Sammy Ameobi on the Newcastle United substitutes bench. Sammy’s recall not only shows that reinforcements, at least one or two, are needed, but also shows that there really is no young talent coming out of the youth academy at the moment.

With rock bottom of the league Rotherham coming up next weekend, I really hope that Rafa can put out a strong attacking line up that can use the game as a catalyst for a big run over the coming month. A win is a win at the end of the day but a four or five to nothing win over Rotherham next weekend would do wonders not only for the players’ confidence, but for a section of fans (including myself) who are worried about the direction the team seems to be heading in at the moment, in regards to their performances.

While the result says Newcastle won 2-1 and Ayoze Perez made two assists, this wouldn’t be a fair reflection on the game. Once again Perez was woeful.

Granted, the assist for the winner was a moment of magic, something Newcastle have in their locker that most teams in the Championship do not. However, the performance of Perez: his first touch, ability to beat a man, strength, pace and general contribution to the game at this level leaves a lot to be desired. He appears to be a far cry from the Perez in his first season who worked his socks off for 90 minutes. There were numerous times on Saturday that he spent more time on the floor or flinging his hands in the air. than he did actually contributing to the game.

With so many injures coming in the game and a lack of kids coming through the system who don’t even look like they are good enough to make up the numbers, never mind contribute, January signings are very much needed. Not three or four squad fillers but one or two big signings that will definitely improve what we have already.

I am thinking the areas that are in need of improvement are improving Jack Colback in central midfield and Yoan Gouffran out wide – yes January is a tough time to bring players in, but it can definitely be done at Championship level. What would it take to persuade Brady and Hughes away from Norwich and Derby?

Two young players with sell on value for you Mr Ashley… but let’s leave that for another article.

The Game

Newcastle started the game with attacking intent and looked lively with Dwight Gayle causing havoc. Time and time again in the early exchanges, Newcastle turned over Brentford’s back line and Gayle had them backpeddling towards their own goal.

Before he did eventually score, Gayle could have had two or three, and Jamaal Lascelles missed a good chance from a corner.

In the first 30 minutes this looked like a different Newcastle from the one we had usually seen away from home this season, with Yedlin and Dummett trying to get forward as much as possible, although their final product left a lot to be desired.

Finally, Newcastle opened the scoring with Gayle doing all of the work and smashing a great shot past the Brentford goalkeeper, which sent the away end into delirium. Everything was looking good! But then Newcastle did what they always do when they go 1-0 up, they put every man behind the ball and try to see the game out, and it never ever works.

brentford 1 newcastle 2

From the moment we scored, Newcastle were awful. I don’t just mean that they were defensive, they were genuinely awful. Positionally, the likes of Gouffran, Perez and Yedlin were all over the place, as Brentford put the pressure on and two chances to equalise straight away but were denied by a good save from Darlow and a great block from Dummett.

Murphy was brought on to replace Gayle and it is fair to say that when called upon so far this season he has not let anyone down. Yes he may be 33, yes he may have been £3 million quid, yes he may have no sell on value whatsoever, but it is wins like this that get you promoted at the end of the season and get you the big money of returning to the Premier League.

If the Newcastle of previous seasons had Daryl Murphy in their team, or an Antoine Sibierski, then we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Once again, before the half was over, Newcastle were under huge pressure and had to rely on Darlow to make two key saves and keep them in the lead. Perhaps United can count themselves very lucky that Scott Hogan was left on the bench for the whole game, otherwise you would have fancied him to bury a chance or two. Cheers West Ham!

In the second half, the performance got even more negative! Darlow again was called upon to make two key saves before Hayden was forced to come off with injury.

Then Brentford had the best chance of the game, as Vibe lifted the ball over Darlow and as it made its way to the goal it hit the post and somehow Lascelles got it clear! By this point Newcastle were really riding their luck and a Brentford goal was almost inevitable… and it came!

With 10 minutes to go though, Newcastle stole a winner thanks to a brilliant assist from Perez and a great header by Murphy.

Staggeringly, when you cross it into the big man, he scored a goal! Would you believe it?

I find it amazing that Newcastle spent an hour of this game with Murphy on the pitch and didn’t cross the ball into him once! Professional footballers don’t have the brain to think “hey the big one is on now, let’s cross the ball into the box when we get out wide”.

In the end, we hung on. It was desperate, very desperate, but three points are the most important thing. Another great result, another poor performance.

rafa benitez

Rafa Benitez

Credit to Rafa who made bold choices with all of the substitutions he was forced into making. While the injuries to Gayle and Hayden left him with straight swap choices of Murphy and Anita… his decision to replace Anita with Hanley and go to five at the back proved to be the right decision, with the big three centre halves seeing the game out for Newcastle. In the last nine minutes alone, Hanley must have headed away nine crosses and was a colossus when called upon.

If there is one area that Newcastle are strongest this season it is at centre back, with Premier League quality centre halves at their disposal. Throw in the likes of Dummett and Hayden as extra insurance and it’s the one area of the team that you don’t even have to think about.

Earlier in the season when we won and played poorly I didn’t care how we did it, as long as we won, but now I am getting worried because these performances are consistently bad.

The reason we have won so many games away from home is because we have taken our chances. Aside from QPR, there hasn’t been one game away this season where we have had a load of chances and not taken them. We have won because we have been clinical. With Gayle and Mitro out, I worry that we will stop taking the very few chances that come our way.

The Fans

I would never criticise a fan’s opinion and say “oh you haven’t been to the game so I know more than you” but from reading social media just after the game, any fan who didn’t go could be forgiven for thinking that Perez was great and Darlow had a shocker.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Newcastle picked up three points very much thanks to Karl Darlow and the two rock solid centre halves in front of him and the travelling 1,633 (official – many more in home sections) Newcastle United fans thanked him for it with a series of songs throughout and after the game.

One of the best away atmospheres for a long time. Perhaps that had something to do with the standing section on the lower tier which was packed and a crazy place to be when we the winner went in!

Well done for those that made the journey – a thoroughly satisfying day.

Last bit

We may have been rubbish but I feel like Saturday was a huge win. If you are going to win the league, or get promoted, it is those hard fought away wins when you deserve nothing that are going be crucial in seeing you over the line.

A rise in form is very much needed but wins like this will raise the spirit of everyone. For the first time in a long while I actually found myself walking away from the match singing “Karl Darlow” to myself with a smile on my face.

Howay the lads!

Stats from BBC Sport:

Brentford 1 Newcastle 2

Goals:

Newcastle: Gayle 20, Murphy 79

Brentford: Vibe 52

Possession was Brentford 55% Newcastle 45%

Total shots were Brentford 12 Newcastle 11

Shots on target were Brentford 6 Newcastle 5

Corners were Brentford 7 Newcastle 5

Referee: Chris Kavanagh

Crowd: 11,435 (1,633 Newcastle)

Newcastle United:

Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Hayden (Anita 62 (Hanley 72)), Colback, Ritchie, Perez, Gouffran, Gayle (Murphy 28)

Subs:

Sels, Lazaar, Sterry, Ameobi

We also asked Jonathan to provide Match Ratings for each player and they were published after the game and can be seen HERE.