Unspectacular but ultimately satisfying for Newcastle United. That will do.
Newcastle 3 Nottingham Forest 1 – Friday 30 December 2016
It’s fair to say there was a bit of needle about this match. I’m a bit young to remember Trelford Mills and Brighton, and drink does sometimes affect my memory, but I can’t recall a more burning feeling of injustice than the one created by the Steve Martin/Henri Lansbury debacle just four weeks ago at the City Ground.
From what I could see afterwards, the Forest fans were less than magnanimous about their undeserved victory, choosing to focus on our relative financial situations ahead of the four major shocking decisions that allowed them to squeak that win.
Comments pre-match from Lascelles suggested the team were as eager as the fans to settle a score here and with a bad Boxing Day to recover from, the stakes couldn’t have been higher.
United started exactly how we’d hoped, roaring at Forest with intent. Forest seemed to once again be up for a bit of a cheat in response, and I have to admit that when Dummett was barged over in prime free kick territory, I briefly became one of these specimens that can only respond to any situation by bemoaning the absence of Shelvey. Quite rightly I immediately felt like a right tit when Ritchie stepped up and smacked it in, utilising the services of one of those deflections that sends it off in an impossibly difficult direction for the goalie to have a chance. We’ll take it though.
Going ahead after four minutes allowed me to entertain warming thoughts of sticking these lot for six, which seemed about an accurate estimate of the gap between the sides last time out if one were to remove the bent officiating.
It didn’t materialise though, as the main tactic seemed to be swinging balls in the box that were easily dealt with by Forest’s large centre halves against the isolated figure of Gayle. The only chance our number nine encountered in the first half saw him direct Hayden’s fizzing centre wide under pressure.
It was getting to be a worry that United may have lost their way as the visitors edged their way back in, ultimately equalising horribly through the sort of error strewn shocker of a goal we used to ship as a bit of a trademark under Pardew and Carver. Pereira was allowed to advance despite several chances to put a foot in on his meandering run, before the ball was crossed into the box and headed down while United defenders were caught static, giving Dumitru a second to think about it before powering past Darlow.
The response at half time was muted and it’s getting a bit of a pi**er if I’m honest. The readiness for people to start giving up or crying disaster when the slightest wobble is hit is ludicrous, not to mention disrespectful to the manager who has turned this whole club around. To bemoan the absence of Shelvey is pointless for at least another 2 weeks, whilst jumping to shout on that 4-4-2 is the answer to all our problems when we aren’t winning is getting boring. The attendance today was a season high but there’s no point in getting numbers in, if the atmosphere is one of petty grumbling interspersed with silent internet surfing.
Of course, things did transpire in a way that saw us enter 2017 top of the Championship. The game swung on one incident on the hour mark, as Darlow attempted to start a counter with a quick throw out to Perez, who was then mildly assaulted from behind by Mills. I was too busy being drunk and not looking to fully understand the confabulation that followed – but found out later that Mills had ran off with the ball and pelted it into the belly of Gayle, who was doubtless engaging in a bout of worky-ticketing. The fourth official saw all, shouted the ref over, and the Forest man completed the impressive feat of getting booked twice in the same incident. Silly lad.
Shame as well, as I really wanted there to be some sense of injustice about the red card, a delightful karma. If six nowt was off the table I wanted a narrow 2-1 win, with the winner handballed in after a series of injustices were perpetrated against the former European Champions. Butter my arse if we didn’t just have to settle for winning fair and square though.
It only took minutes from Mills’ rush of blood for the lead to be regained in fine fashion. Clark’s hopeful ball forward was headed on by a Forest defender and drifting harmlessly out for a corner when Gayle pounced and unleashed a wicked volley from a tight angle, a little bit reminiscent of Shearer’s famous strike against Villa in the very same net. Well, they’ve probably replaced the nets since 2001, but it was a canny strike anyway.
With the lead regained, Newcastle looked comfortable again, especially after the introduction of Mo Diame, who was full of probing running and sharp distribution. This was a marked contrast to the more pedestrian Perez, who delivered another lightweight showing. With Diame and Atsu away to the African Cup of Nations, Ayoze will doubtless hold a place in the side in the coming weeks and improvement will be essential if he is to hold a place in Rafa’s future plans.
The result was put beyond doubt with ten minutes remaining. Gayle went down in the box and had a bit of a linger but hauled himself up when United swiftly extinguished Forest’s attempt to clear. Ritchie broke down the right and sent a cross over that was bundled in by Gayle at the back post in the manner of someone playing FIFA who doesn’t really understand the controls, as our number nine struggled to find the ‘x’ button and ended up in the net with the ball. Question marks over the keeper on this one, no question over the destination of the points.
Overall a laboured win in an unspectacular match but we enter 2017 top of the league with cancellations of games at Brighton and Reading, seeing the return of a nine point cushion to third place, as well as our return to the summit.
Hopefully by the time of the games in hand both those sides will have lost momentum, while we will have only kicked on via the transfer window. With Atsu and Diame both key players at the minute, this may be more essential than previously thought, but I’m sure Rafa has this covered.
As to our opponents, the victory was sweet if less than stellar, and there’s no small amount of schadenfreude in seeing them slide closer to league one.
Also, as a bonus we’ll get another crack at Lansbury, as he seems set to join Derby in the window. I look forward to reading yet more comments from Forest fans on what a smashing hero of a bloke he is in light of this one.
Unspectacular but ultimately satisfying. That’ll do.
Here are the stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 3 Nottingham Forest 1
Newcastle United: Ritchie 4 Gayle 63, 80
Nottingham Forest: Dumitru 29 (Mills red card 60)
Possession was Forest 40% Newcastle 60%
Total shots were Forest 8 Newcastle 16
Shots on target were Forest 3 Newcastle 8
Corners were Forest 1 Newcastle 9
Newcastle starting 11:
Darlow, Yedlin, Clark, Lascelles, Dummett, Hayden, Colback (Diame 67), Ritchie (Lazaar 83), Atsu, Perez, Gayle (Mitrovic 88)
Sels, Mbemba, Gouffran, Anita
Referee: Keith Stroud
(To read the instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the match go HERE)
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