Wow, what an incredible day, as we ascended to the temporary heights of fourth place, an early season anomaly that we would love to dream of but in reality is more of a positive sign towards a potential top half finish, than any serious contemplation of the far-off concept of the Champions League.
I would like to apologise at this stage for the above realistic assessment to any venomous little troll perusing this page from the perception of some other team, looking for evidence to store in the dog-eared, well-thumbed folder of how deluded Newcastle fans are.
If it’s myth enhancement you’re after, here’s one for you…
The Premier League is the biggest and best league in the world.
Respect to the hardy contingent of 1,400 Stoke fans that filled less than half the away end today, but outside of that core I’m afraid you’re a bit of a waste of top flight time. That very same section was packed to the rafters last season by the fans of Leeds, Ipswich, Derby and Birmingham, many of whom didn’t have the luxury of a Saturday 3pm kick off to plan the best away trip in the entire country (I’m sorry but I’ve been to all your grounds and it is) and it may be that the punishing existence forced upon the mid-table dwellers of this league has crushed a lot of spirit there.
Stoke seemingly expected to win, as long-term regulars of the division we exited for a single solitary year, so it must have surprised them a smudgy tad to be goggle faced bystanders for the entire first half. United made the breakthrough in the twentieth minute after a steady opening as the magnificent Matt Ritchie scorched an inswinging cross over for Christian Atsu to thump in at the far post, his first Premier League goal and no less than we deserved.
The rest of a dominant first half was more notable for what didn’t happen, as United’s failure to extend the lead to an insurmountable margin left the paranoid among us anticipating the inevitable bitten backside.
Surely against his former employers with a point to prove, Joselu was a decent bet for a goal today. When Atsu’s cross found him in a prime lead doubling position he took the inexplicable option of swinging a clumsy left foot at an easy right foot finish and he missed. Moments later, DeAndre Yedlin’s speculative shot deflected fortunately into the Spanish striker’s path with time to spare. He gave Butland the half chance he needed to produce an excellent block. Thirdly, within thirty seconds of the second half being kicked off (by Stoke) a fine pass by Perez was controlled well by Joselu to present an excellent shooting chance that was blazed horribly over the bar. You started to worry that this might cost us.
Minutes later, all this cost us.
Stoke as a team are very much in the mould of their manager, with a tendency for toughness that can easily transgress into mindless thuggery. However, should one cough, splutter or breath heavily while near one of their number they will instantly and shamelessly collapse, grabbing for the ball with a sense of entitlement reminiscent of an 80s perm and a ‘Sharp’ embossed Man Utd shirt.
Xherdan Shaqiri is the worst example of this, huffing and chugging around the pitch like an asthmatic prop forward in a heavy backpack, dropping to the ground when touched, flicked or frowned at on what is a transparent excuse to have a puff, pant and lie down.
It should have come as a surprise to no one that it was this plump wee cheatster that pinched Stoke an ill-deserved equaliser, smashing in an admittedly wicked effort from the edge of the box.
There was real concern that it could have unraveled here, as Mame Diouf’s subsequent header was all but in before Rob Elliot appeared from nowhere to produce a save that looked magnificently Gordon Banks from my seat in the Gallowgate.
Fortunately, United produced a swift response, as Perez smashed in despite being well flagged offside, before a swift counter saw the same bloke unleash Atsu on goal. As the Ghanaian looked to double his tally a villainous mob of thuggish Stoke defenders closed in and hacked the ball away from the spiralling Atsu. Replays suggested that our bloke took a touch too many, allowing Zouma to nip in with a goal saving tackle, but this didn’t stop full force fury being directed at a referee having a bit of a shocker.
The ref felt the full brunt of this disdain at a subsequent corner, as Jamaal Lascelles took him to task for his dithering incompetence. When Ritchie delivered the ball, our captain seemed to be fuelled by pure anger and fury as he thundered in to head his second winner in a week, adding further evidence to his growing dossier against zonal marking.
The resultant time was just about negotiated despite some latter stage sloppiness presenting Stoke with a couple of squandered chances.
Just 31 points to go then, fortunately there’s more than enough average teams to take them off.
We are very lucky that we have Rafa, and whoever has brought this lot together, as the impeccable Mikel Merino stood out once more among a slickly functioning midfield boosted as ever by the industrious efforts of the ever excellent Ritchie.
The attitude exemplified by Lascelles may just see a sense of spirit that is too much for many a soulless collective of overpriced payday seekers.
Welcome to the Premier League, let’s have it.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 2 Stoke 1
Newcastle: Atsu 19, Lascelles 68
Stoke: Shaqiri 57
Possession was Stoke 58% Newcastle 42%
Total shots were Stoke 10 Newcastle 16
Shots on target were Stoke 13 Newcastle 14
Corners were Stoke 5 Newcastle 7
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Elliot, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Mbemba, Ritchie, Hayden (Shelvey 69), Merino, Atsu, Perez (Diame 86), Joselu (Gayle 78)
Woodman, Murphy, Manquillo, Lejeune
Crowd: 51,795 (approx 1,500 Stoke)
(Phil Thompson admits he could have been wrong about Newcastle players – Read Here)
(Read what Rafa Benitez had to say after beating Stoke Here)
(Alan Shearer a very happy man after Newcastle went top four – Read it Here)
(The instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to win over Stoke – Here)
(Your Newcastle v Stoke player ratings Here)
(Mark Hughes’ comments Here – he was watching a different game!)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf