3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Huddersfield 0 Newcastle 1
Saturday afternoon ended Huddersfield 0 Newcastle 1.
A first half where Newcastle United were almost permanently sat back in their own half.
Then after the break they kept their defensive shape but started getting some joy on the counter-attack with odd bits of better quality as Huddersfield became demoralised.
Salomon Rondon scoring the decisive goal after a great team move.
The Editor asked me beforehand to write about 3 positives and 3 negatives from the game, so here goes…
On the right road
There’s so little between the teams in and around the bottom of the table and the margins are so fine, that many Newcastle fans would probably have been happy enough to take a point if you had offered them one before kick-off at the John Smith’s Stadium.
While it might sound a bit premature to label it a relegation six-pointer, Saturday’s clash most definitely was one. Here were two of the league’s most limited and one-dimensional sides slogging it out in a game that was never likely to get top billing on Match Of The Day and it was anything but pretty.
Luckily for us, Huddersfield’s woeful scoring record continued and despite some nervy moments, Rafa’s game plan worked a treat and we managed to escape with a hard-fought win. Those precious three points meant that we opened up a six-point gap between ourselves and our hosts as we climbed to the relative comfort of 14th in the table.
While we still aren’t quite averaging a point per game, this win has now at least put us in a position to improve on where we were this time last year should we manage to beat Claudio Ranieri’s Fulham at St James Park next Saturday.
A win would take us up to 19 points, a point ahead of where we were last Christmas – no mean feat considering we made the club’s worst ever start to a season and had to wait until November for the first win.
To say that Newcastle sat deep and invited Huddersfield on to them would be a gross understatement. There was a moment in the 68th minute when a hefty clearance out of the Newcastle defence landed just inside their own half… but was still around 10 yards ahead of their most advanced player.
Time and time again Huddersfield launched the ball towards the Newcastle box and time after time, the defence stood firm.
Martin Dúbravka was his usual calm and confident self, Fabian Schär headed countless long balls out of the danger zone and Clark and Lascelles both tracked runners and closed down space as Huddersfield looked for a way through. That Newcastle never looked in any real danger may well owe much to the lack of quality striking options that David Wagner has to choose from but the lads still deserve credit for a job well done.
The statistics for the season so far bear that out too; Rafa Benitez’s side are joint fifth in the league rankings for conceding the fewest goals from open play (11 from 17 matches) and they have only conceded one goal on the break in all that time as well. Such statistics don’t come about by accident and the fact that Newcastle have become such a diligent and well-drilled unit is testament to all the hard work put in on the training ground on a daily basis.
A Second Half Goal!
Salomón Rondón’s 55th minute winner was actually the first second-half goal that Newcastle had scored away from St James Park this season and it couldn’t have come at a better time – 325 goalless second-half minutes had been played on the road when Rondón finished calmly and confidently after great work by Manquillo down the right flank to put Newcastle on their way to a vital win.
With Newcastle being pegged back by Huddersfield and looking dangerously devoid of ideas themselves, it seemed unlikely that The Magpies would get that particular monkey off their backs on Saturday afternoon, but the in-form Venezuelan was clinical when required. Having endured a torrid first few months to the season, Newcastle were now able to celebrate lifting another psychological weight from their shoulders.
While the fact remains that we have now scored just one goal in six hours of second half football on the road this season, it feels like another little step in the right direction and can only help increase the squad’s confidence as they head into the hectic festive season.
Seeing Newcastle take to the field in their 1995-96-inspired away kit, brought glorious memories of Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers flooding back, but apart from their attire there were no further similarities between King Kev’s side and Rafa’s lads.
The fact that we had a paltry 26% possession, and mustered a single corner against a very limited Huddersfield side, tells you everything you need to know about the current plight of the club. Newcastle defended superbly and dug in for a priceless win but it was far from a classic as two poor sides lumbered unimaginatively – a stalemate always seeming the most likely outcome only for Newcastle to piece together one swift and incisive attacking move to steal the three points.
It was all a far cry from the halcyon days of the mid-1990s when David Ginola slalomed through opposition lines, Peter Beardsley intricately jinked his way around packed defences and Keith Gillespie pinged crosses in towards Les Ferdinand with unerring accuracy.
What Rafa Benítez wouldn’t give for even one player of such quality – as solid and resolute as Newcastle are in defence these days, they are positively unimaginative and one-dimensional in attack and desperately short of flair and creativity. How times have changed.
VAR – What is it good for? Absolutely everything!
Having flown into a rage over two decisive refereeing decisions during the Wolves game, Rafa would surely have blown a gasket had Newcastle failed to hang on for all three points after the linesman incorrectly flagged Ayoze Pérez offside when he dinked the keeper to make it 2-0.
To the naked eye, Pérez looked in line and when TV cameras then confirmed that the goal should have stood, it was hard to avoid the sinking feeling that it would come back to haunt us. Thankfully, Huddersfield’s lack of quality and our steadfast defending meant that they couldn’t make the most of the few chances that came their way and Rafa’s post-match interview took on an altogether different complexion as Newcastle held firm and escaped with the win.
However, the fact that it didn’t matter in the end doesn’t mean that getting such calls right isn’t absolutely vital. All these calls affect the momentum in games and the old truism that these things even out over the course of a season is little consolation when you’ve seen your team lose points on the back of simple refereeing mistakes.
The Weakest Link
With Jonjo Shelvey on the sidelines and Isaac Hayden struggling for form and fitness all season, Rafa Benítez has relied exclusively on Diame and Ki in recent weeks and, while they each give their all out on the pitch, their shortcomings are alarming when you view the stats.
Newcastle’s average possession of 42.8% is the third lowest in the league, while their pass completion rate of 71.2% is the league’s second worst. What’s more, only Cardiff average fewer than Newcastle’s 270 short passes per game and the 69 long balls lumped upfield each game places Rafa Benítez’s side fourth highest on that particular list. All of which goes to explain why Newcastle languish in joint 19th place in the goalscoring charts (14 goals) and find themselves in 18th place on the Shots Per Game chart (11).
With the defence relatively solid these days and Salomón Rondón in fine form up front, the addition of some creativity and flair in midfield could really help Newcastle find a new dimension and ensure that they can avoid the relegation dogfight in the springtime.
While talk of Atlanta’s Miguel Almirón making the trip across the Atlantic rumbles on, Newcastle’s crippling lack of imagination is glaringly obvious and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Huddersfield 0 Newcastle 1
Newcastle: Rondon 55
Possession was Huddersfield 76% Newcastle 24%
Total shots were Huddersfield 15 Newcastle 8
Shots on target were Huddersfield 5 Newcastle 5
Corners were Huddersfield 10 Newcastle 1
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Dubravka, Manquillo, Schar, Lascelles, Clark, Kenedy (Dummett 89), Ki (Hayden 72), Diame, Atsu, Rondon (Ritchie 81), Perez
Woodman, Joselu, Muto, Murphy
Crowd: 24,036 (Newcastle 2,400)
(Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer, United behind Rafa Benitez ahead of Mike Ashley selling Newcastle United – Read HERE)
(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the win HERE)
(Match ratings for all NUFC players v Huddersfield HERE)
(David Wagner can’t believe that Huddersfield lost to Newcastle – Read HERE)
(Rafa Benitez warns after Huddersfield 0 Newcastle 1 “If you ask about referees I won’t say anything” – Read HERE)
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