I think one thing was certainly clear at Goodison Park on Monday night, the partnership of Islam Slimani and Ayoze Perez never looked like clicking.
It was subsequently no surprise that when I saw the Newcastle v Everton player ratings on The Mag, the fans gave the two strikers the joint lowest mark of all the starting eleven.
The only memorable moment of them combining, was for all the wrong reasons.
With the score still goalless, it was Kenedy who created a golden chance for Newcastle to take the lead, charging down Jordan Pickford’s attempted clearance.
The ball fell kindly at the feet of Ayoze Perez but with Islam Slimani standing unmarked on the edge of the box and the Spaniard needing to only slide a simple pass into his path, instead he somehow hit it too hard and off target. A goal kick instead of a simple chance to take the lead and very likely win the game from there.
Monday’s match was rubbish really, disappointing result against old Fat Head, made all the worse because Newcastle never had a proper go.
However, Newcastle fans pretty philosophical about it all despite four wins in a row beforehand, the supporters understanding that it would be daft to think this team was the finished article. So even if Rafa had gone a bit more open/attacking, still no guarantee of a better result/performance.
With thoughts turning to Saturday and West Brom, I have been surprised at some of the comments from Newcastle supporters when it comes to the likely team.
The main topic being whether Islam Slimani should get another start…
Not surprisingly he looked a little bit rusty and not totally match fit, the last time he started a game was New Year’s Day and since a sub appearance on 16 January he has been out injured and only played 42 minutes as a sub for Newcastle (as well as a brief sub appearance for Algeria). Islam Slimani needs more games, not less!
There are only four matches of the season and if we aren’t going him a start against West Brom at home to see what he can do, then he might as well head off back to Leicester now. If there is even minimal interest in potentially looking at Slimani as a possibility to buy this summer, then we he has to play.
At Everton, the biggest problem was that the Algerian is not the quickest and Ayoze Perez has even less pace, That lack of pace and mobility meant that the Everton defence could push up and there was so little space for Newcastle and Shelvey in particular to play in. It also meant United struggled to get higher up the pitch on the wings, so not a single decent cross going in for the powerful loan forward.
It was no surprise then, that when Dwight Gayle came on for the final 25 minutes, Newcastle suddenly looked far more of a threat. Jagielka and Keane went from looking totally comfortable to now be struggling with Gayle’s pace and mobility.
Free-kicks were won and Keane was booked, indeed he should have been sent off, the clueless referee Madley bottling the decision when it was an obvious second yellow. Ironically, Gayle’s movement/pace helped Newcastle get further up the pitch, including on the wings, meaning that suddenly we also had a few decent crosses coming in…with no Islam Slimani on the pitch.
No denying that Dwight Gayle should have scored more this season, I reckon four or five more on chances that have come his way, but he does work hard for the team and nobody can deny, he is the only striker with pace that we have at the minute.
Personally, I don’t rate Ayoze Perez that highly, I think he is a squad player at best and his three seasons in the Premier League have shown that he doesn’t get enough goals and assists (5 goals and 5 assists this season, 6 goals and 2 assists in 2015/16, 7 goals and 0 assists in 2014/15), or gets involved enough, to justify starting every week.
Like the rest of the team he has done ok the last couple of months and hit one of the little purple patches we have seen occasionally in the past, scoring three games in a row. Happy enough if he stays next season as a squad player but we definitely need more from somebody playing as one of the front pair, so time to start planning for next season.
I think Islam Slimani and Dwight Gayle have to be given a chance together on Saturday, no reason why Gayle can’t be buzzing around his teammate when Newcastle have possession, then drop a little deeper to help defend from the front when West Brom have the ball.
When I have watched Slimani in the past, he’s a clever player and I think as well as potentially scoring himself, he can bring out the best on Gayle. The Leicester man is capable of clever lay-offs and putting in little through balls to exploit Gayle’s pace.
As we saw at Everton, whilst Diame and Shelvey have been excellent in recent times, neither of them are going to make runs beyond the strikers, so in the absence of a central midfielder who is able to do that, it makes it even more imperative that you have Gayle on the pitch.
Newcastle are safe now and so no need to play too safe in the remaining matches, plus I think we have far more chance of playing well against the Baggies if we take the game to them and have that threat of Gayle shifting them about and maybe getting in behind, with Islam Slimani also starting to give them another goalscorer to worry about.
Naturally, no disaster of course if Rafa doesn’t go with this front pairing but I’d love to see him give it a try.