Newcastle United silencing the doubters…
Right that’s it then. Off you all go for holidays, weeks of wild speculation and a disastrous early exit for England at the World Cup. The season’s over and the summer is here.
Summer was definitely showing its face as the sun hit the beer gardens pre-match. There was a danger element to facing a Chelsea side that was assembled at extortionate cost and had a glimmer of a Champions League place, but there were also reasons to be confident that United could end a four match losing run.
The former champions were experiencing their bi-annual club paddy, where everyone falls out, gives up and generally paves the way for six hundred million pounds to be spent on a new Chelsea for next season once the window opens.
With the cup final next week they probably didn’t fancy this at all, especially as those slight Champions League hopes rested on Liverpool losing at home to Brighton (who surely didn’t have enough penalties in them to pull that one-off).
Unfortunately for Sky, this ludicrous longshot was the closest thing to an unresolved issue in a Premier League season that had entirely sorted itself out in the preceding weeks. Ah well, it got us another round of TV cash I suppose.
I hate myself for thinking of football finances, which are trotted out as pointless statistics more on this date than any other. In the absence of real things happening that people give a chuff about, salivating commentators and bore-obsessed dunderheads reel off how much each place in the table is worth, just in case anyone allowed themselves to forget for a few seconds that money is the heartbeat of football.
Still though, I knew that with our owner (who has made it clear he has no intention of selling) the ten million quid difference between best and worst case scenarios would probably represent one of our top three summer signings. Also, I wanted to finish in the top half of the table.
Chelsea gave an astonishing demonstration of how distracting it can be to daydream about your forthcoming move to PSG, as their mixture of fringe players and superstars proceeded to not bother their arses too much. Take nothing away though, Newcastle took the shoots of promise from the Spurs game and sprouted them into a stunning performance, utterly demolishing the former champions.
The first sign of a dominant display came when Gayle’s knock down teed up Shelvey to hit a thunderous volley that would have looked great landing in the goal if it weren’t for Courtois getting himself in the way of it. Moments later Diame hit a venomous strike of his own only for the same bloke to do similar goalkeeping, the big spoilsport. Not for the first time of late, Diame was clearly up for it, shoving Kante off the ball to smash another strong effort just wide. It felt like something was coming.
Shelvey was buzzing everywhere and his ball into Ritchie gave the winger the chance to cross into the path of Murphy’s run. He tried to lob Courtois and the back-pedalling goalie (probably knackered from half an hour of constant work) could only palm the ball to the onrushing Gayle to nod in a simple header.
There were worrying moments to follow as Chelsea enjoyed almost 3 seconds of solid possession from the kick off before Shelvey took it off them and blasted just wide. Gayle, boosted by scoring for the first time in weeks, months and ages, then hit a vicious drive for the exhausted Courtois to fling his weary self at.
Perez was manhandled in the box by Azpilixequaetilixiquesta and inexplicably kept his feet in a season where he’s regularly crumpled embarrassingly under reasonable challenges, then fired wide when running onto Ritchie’s cross. We were murdering them…but you feared one might never be enough with the quality in the lethargic opposition.
The second half started with a couple of brief flashes of danger. Ross Barkley, always a thorn in our side when at Everton, crossed for Rylan Clark-Neal, a similar destructive influence when at Arsenal, to flick a creative shot but Dubravka did brilliantly to tip the ball over.
Any worries were swiftly put to bed though, as Murphy’s cross was helpfully paffed Shelvey-wards by Bakayoko, giving the opportunity for another thunderous strike from outside the box. It looked like Perez had been a bit cheeky in claiming a touch from my seat but the replays showed a deft flick changing the direction of the ball slightly, a finish not dissimilar to his effort at this stage of last season on that balmy, brilliant day against Barnsley.
A brief lapse followed as Barkley led another charge on the box, spurred on by the fact he was getting his second Chelsea start and needing to silence those doubters who might say things like he’s a silly greedy bastard who has cattled his career with a thick move. The defence was found napping and the well paid former Evertonian found himself one on one with Dubravka, who was in a remarkably similar mood to his debut v Man Utd, producing an amazing block with his legs. Sign that lad up please.
This set things up for game over, as moments later Shelvey’s free kick from deep found Lejeune completely unmarked at the back post. He steered it across for Perez to bundle in from close range. It never felt like the sort of day we would surrender a three goal lead and even Chelsea’s substitution of a trio of monstrous superstars off the bench didn’t damage the mood as the party atmosphere flowed.
The manager’s name was sung throughout, with the entirely blunt chorus of “Rafa Benitez – we want you to stay” ringing loudest towards the end of the game.
There were echoes of the famous final day demolition of Spurs where heartfelt pleas from the terraces had previously rang out, hoping against hope that this outstanding manager would invest his time further in our basket case of a club. He did then, and today the backdrop was far more optimistic than that post-relegation death rattle, but the situation could yet grow far more desperate.
I dread to think what our management options would be if Rafa did leave. With a year still left on his existing contract, his best move could be to wait the transfer window out and give notice of his intentions should his desired signings fail to materialise.
True to recent form, Mike Ashley used Sports Direct TV aka Sky Sports, to send out a seemingly benign statement appealing to Rafa to stay. Possibly in part to offset the inevitable tidal wave of media click bait but far more likely setting himself up for a “we tried everything to keep Rafa” should the manager decide enough is enough.
The anxiety ahead of the summer to come was tangible amidst the celebrations of a season of great progression and a fine performance to finish it off with. It’s bittersweet and deeply frustrating to have these glimmers of what could be, while facing up to the prospect of a potentially grim reality.
Maybe the key is just to focus on the positives of great days like these while they are here. Solid top half finish.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 3 Chelsea 0
Newcastle: Gayle 23, Perez 59, 63
Possession was Chelsea 58% Newcastle 42%
Total shots were Chelsea 6 Newcastle 16
Shots on target were Chelsea 2 Newcastle 6
Corners were Chelsea 2 Newcastle 4
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Ritchie (Hayden 72), Shelvey, Diame (Haidara 87), Murphy, Perez, Gayle (Joselu 48)
Darlow, Manquillo, Gamez, Merino
Crowd: 52,294 (3,000 Chelsea)
(Read the instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the victory HERE)
(Kenedy post emotional farewell message to Newcastle United – Read it HERE)
(Breaking News: Mike Ashley releases statement asking Rafa Benitez to stay at Newcastle United – Read it HERE)
(Alan Shearer reacts to Ashley’s statement – Read it HERE)
(Rafa Benitez reaction to the win over Chelsea – Read it HERE)
(Antonio Conte not happy after humbling by NUFC – Read it HERE)
(Amusing comments from Chelsea fans after this hammering – Read it HERE)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
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