Absolute outrage how long it took this game to come around, following the hateful time vortex that is the international break.
Having annihilated Southampton last time out there was always the chance that momentum could be lost during the endless drag of the enforced break and we could not afford for this to happen at such a crucial point in proceedings. Win today and we could step on Huddersfield’s head en route to the comfort of mid-table, lose and we were right back in the clarts.
Fortunately, something has clicked at home of late, and United seemed to be firmly in gear from the off again. I’m not going to get tired of writing that Diame and Shelvey owned the midfield again, but as with the previous two home games it felt like the whole team was on their game as the visitors were pinned back in their own half, while chance after chance was carved out but frustratingly went begging.
There’s probably two views as to whether Dwight Gayle was unlucky or downright wasteful today – but no one can say he wasn’t getting into the positions. He was given enough time to think about his shot when Yedlin’s centre reached him, but blasted over, then tried his luck with a cheeky backheel when Perez picked him out among a crowd of Terrier’s defenders. The most glaring chance though, came following one of Shelvey’s magnificent long passes, as a quickly taken free kick caught the Huddersfield defence sleeping and Gayle was sharp enough to find himself one v one with the keeper. From my seat, his decision to lob the goalie looked like a quality finish all day, but our number nine had miscued horribly and sent his effort wide.
Gayle was also on the fringes of our other two closest chances, with his early attempt at an overhead kick breaking nicely for Shelvey to smash an edge of the box effort just wide. Then when Gayle played Ritchie in, his desire to get to the second ball perhaps caused Ritchie to rush his shot, giving Lossl the chance to make an excellent block.
Some utterly mad things have been uttered by Huddersfield fans since this game, but anyone who saw the first half as anything other than total Newcastle dominance, was drinking mad pops and mental brew. From the home perspective, everyone’s muscles tightened a bit at the thought of missed chances coming back to haunt us.
The second half involved a bit more toil, as the visitors took advantage of the downhill slope to visit our half. Jorgensen’s power header from a corner created a goalmouth scramble that often creates the kind of stupid daft pie of a goal the likes of which is in Newcastle DNA to concede but Dubravka gathered calmly. Good on him for staying alert because up until this point United could have played a balloon tied to a stick in goal for all the bother Huddersfield had created.
It was getting a bit scratchy as the clock wore on to the point of Rafa’s substitutions, including a belated debut for Slimani for Gayle, who apparently picked up his banjo and headed straight for the Town Moor to set about some cow’s backsides, and Hayden for the dominant Diame, worryingly sporting a slight limp. Atsu also replaced Ritchie, suggesting that maybe that Scotland injury wasn’t just a massive lie after all.
I was one of I’m sure many in the ground who thought the oft-tiring Kenedy and less effective Perez would be likelier targets for the hook at this stage, but subsequent events were to prove why Rafa is Newcastle manager, and me and those other blokes thinking such things don’t manage anyone of particular note.
Slimani gave a glimpse of what we’ve maybe been missing as he flashed onto a Shelvey super-pass but couldn’t get a shot off. Having hoped he’d score an utter screamer with his very first touch I have to confess to being a bit gutted as we sloped into the final ten minutes fearing a Bournemouth style sucker punch.
Huddersfield got a bit cocky and tried crossing the halfway line again but Lejeune’s clearing header found Perez on the counter attack. He released Atsu down the wing and the presence of Slimani gave him an obvious target in the middle. The Algerian couldn’t connect but created enough havoc to draw Lossl out to slap the ball away to Kenedy, who showed magnificent composure in smoothly squaring it for the onrushing Perez to slide in and score what could prove to be a priceless winner.
There was a heart in mouth moment late on as Malone escapes Atsu’s half-arsed marking to run on to a back post cross, but Dubravka was big and brace again, not even letting the subsequent head on collision fase him too much. The relief at the final whistle perhaps betrayed everyone’s rising confidence that reaching 35 points was either enough, or very nearly enough, to stay up and hope for better things come the summer.
This game was not pretty at times, as Huddersfield seemed set to come for a point and their niggly approach and tendency for time wasting gave an otherwise benign match a sense of needle at times. I think I counted about a hundred bookings for the visitors as a full blooded Championship match was played out in Premier League shirts.
Given the scarcity of Northern clubs in the top flight (and none looking likely to come up) I would definitely prefer it if Huddersfield were to stick around for a bit. I do fear for them though, as they seem to have the look of a newly promoted team unravelling at the exact wrong time and plummeting into the bother while more experienced campaigners move the other way (Crystal Palace anyone?), a story seen on almost an annual basis in this division.
A quick word on Perez also, who I have long considered a bit of a weak link in a team crying out for a quality number ten. Today was one of his better performances and not the first time he’s popped up with a valuable goal. With Slimani taking another 15 day sabbatical while we face his parent club, hopefully Gayle can find the finish to go with the positions and the evident injury does nothing to slow the renaissance of Mo Diame as Rafa’s overachieving side moves closer to securing their survival.
I think we all feel a bit better about our prospects after another positive day.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Huddersfield 0
Newcastle: Perez 80
Possession was Huddersfield 37% Newcastle 63%
Total shots were Huddersfield 4 Newcastle 18
Shots on target were Huddersfield 0 Newcastle 3
Corners were Huddersfield 3 Newcastle 3
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Ritchie (Atsu 67), Shelvey, Diame (Hayden 79), Shelvey, Kenedy, Gayle (Slimani 75)
Darlow, Manquillo, Clark, Murphy
Crowd: 52,261 (3,000 Huddersfield)
(To read the instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Newcastle 1 Huddersfield 0 go HERE)
(Despite not one effort on target David Wagner says Huddersfield didn’t deserve to lose! Read HERE)
(Rafa Benitez reaction to the win HERE)
(Paul Merson gets very animated after watching Newcastle 1 Huddersfield 0 – Read it HERE)
(Alan Shearer loving what he saw as Newcastle beat Huddersfield – Read it HERE)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf