Newcastle 2 West Ham 1 Saturday 16 January 3pm
Goals: NUFC Perez 6, Wijnaldum 15 WHUFC Jelavic 49
There was a positive start to this day before we even began, as the mackems got themselves so soundly thrashed at White Hart Lane we went back above them on goal difference before our own kick-off.
In spite of an encouraging showing v Man Utd, our league position was still ominous and with a pair of difficult away games to come, there was a pressing need to turn this one into three points.
West Ham though, are no mugs. The Irons arrived sitting nicely in the top six on an eight game unbeaten run and the impressive Payet fully restored to their starting line-up. However, we were hopeful that a new face of our own could be the difference as Jonjo Shelvey went straight into the starting XI for his debut, fellow new boy Saivet settling for a substitute’s role.
I’m happy to report that this is one time when the story went our way.
All season we have lacked a killer ball, with faff, dandying and derry-do in the middle of the park consistently ruining our attacks, often leading to an opposition counter attack that ends in disaster. Shelvey showed today that he was exactly the signing we needed, as he played a full blooded midfielder’s part but constantly looked forward to drive our momentum into the final third, creating chances in abundance. The whole shape of the team looked better and more direct and credit must go to McClaren for pushing for this signing.
The positivity was evident from the off, with United roaring at the Hammers. With only five minutes gone Perez found himself in enough space to get a shot off, but his weak effort was comfortably gathered by Adrian. Intakes of breath as we wondered whether attacking play would again be consistently wasted to our cost.
60 seconds later Perez had made amends and it was a sight to behold. Shelvey made the attack happen, pinging a neat wide ball to Dummett and ultimately collecting it back outside the box. His well-spotted ball through was knocked down by Wijnaldum and stroked into the corner first time by Perez in an exhibition of what you might call…lovely stuff.
The goal did not cost anything in terms of momentum as Newcastle continued to pile forward. All season the failure to turn these spells of dominance into goals has been a curse, so it was more than welcome when an even sweeter goal arrived ten minutes later.
Shelvey’s long crossfield ball into the path of the rampaging Janmaat was a thing of beautiful, deadly accuracy. There was still work to do though and the Dutchman’s excellent first touch without breaking stride gave him the chance to drive the ball across for the onrushing Wijnaldum to blast in. 2-0, AKA as the score you breathe a bit easier at, but still don’t feel fully confident.
A huge part of this new system working involves having a solid lone man up front. It has to be said that Mitrovic played that part incredibly well, holding the ball up and laying if off while indulging in the trademark 1980s rough and tumble with Collins and Ogbonna, and at one point colliding so forcefully with the less-stocky Cresswell that I thought the lad was going to phone his mam to pick him up.
However, Mitrovic was still missing one element that is crucial to the striker’s game, as his finishing is not yet up to standard. One vicious drive from the edge of the box was well saved by Adrian but there were more glaring opportunities, notably when Shelvey’s perfect second-half through ball found him one-on-one with the keeper only to put it straight at him. Less gilt-edged was the instance of getting in a bit of a muddle as Dummett, then Janmaat, fired in shots that West Ham could only part clear, Mitrovic failing to connect as the ball broke his way.
It could be that this profligacy costs us (or has already) but today seems set to be a good one. There was the expected squeaky bum situation of course, as West Ham were handed a route back into the game within minutes of the second half kicking off.
Another fine Newcastle attack had fizzled out when Wijnaldum failed to connect when he should have scored. The Hammers broke but possession was regained on the back foot. Mbemba, under pressure from Valencia, sold Elliot horribly short with an attempted back pass and nasty little sh*t Nikita Jelavic nipped in to round the goalie and finish despite Dummett’s valiant attempt at a goal-line clearance.
Credit must go to Elliot here though, as he tried manfully to stop Jelavic without ever putting himself in danger of a red card. The loss of our keeper (and a penalty) would have surely seen this go sour, as the erstwhile third choice stopper was brilliant again.
His last-minute save with his legs from Kouyate was such a smart and vital stop it brought renditions of the old “Robbie Robbie Elliott” song for his namesake that served the club so well during the Keegan and Robson eras. High praise indeed, but without the 2016 vintage of Rob Elliot, God knows what sort of position we’d be in now.
Chances came and went for us in between, with the numbnuts that used to urge Tiote to shoot from range having switched their attention to Shelvey now. However, he is actually a bit capable of this, and one flying effort was again saved by Adrian, who didn’t have a bad game himself.
In spite of Shelvey’s stunning debut, perhaps a bigger influence is that the new shape his signing has allowed, has released Wijnaldum to his natural role in an advanced central position. The Dutchman was absolutely brilliant, involved in everything the team attempted and playing a full part in many of our 23 shots on goal. I am utterly convinced that some swine will have him off us come the summer, so enjoy him while you can.
A second enjoyable game in a week, but a full return in this one to move us out of the relegation zone, albeit possibly temporarily.
More encouragingly, we have a side that can go to Watford and Everton with confidence and hopefully leave the battle to someone else this May.
Here are the stats from BBC Sport:
Possession was 50% Newcastle and 50% West Ham
Total shots was 23 for Newcastle and West Ham 10
Shots on target was Newcastle 10 and West Ham 3
While corners was Newcastle 3 and West Ham 3
Team: Elliot, Janmaat, Coloccini, Mbemba, Dummett (Saivet 57), Colback, Shelvey, Sissoko, Wijnaldum, Perez (Gouffran 80), Mitrovic (Lascelles 90+5)
Unused Subs: Darlow, Aarons, Riviere, Toney
Ref: Neil Swarbrick
(To view the player ratings by fans and to add your own go HERE)