United ended off the year with a slice of deserved fortune to beat a tricky Forest side to return back to the top of the league after Brighton saw their game postponed on the South coast. Rafa shuffled things around from the Sheff Wed game, bringing in Yedlin, Atsu and Perez and we were ahead inside five minutes. The goal was credited to Ritchie but his free kick from the edge of the box took a big deflection from the wall to leave keeper Stojkovic rooted to the spot – in truth a lucky goal to get the ball rolling, but no less than we deserved after the farce at the City Ground at the start of the month.
With Forest struggling in the league, the expectation was that the early goal would settle us and let us go on to dominate,
but that wasn’t the case as the visitors grew into the game and had the better of the half. We had a warning when Dimitru shot just wide after a ball into the box but we conceded on the half hour mark to the same player. Again, the goal came from a ball into the box which wasn’t dealt with by the two centre halves and Dimitru reacted first to stab a shot past a helpless Darlow inside the box.
Too often our play broke down in the middle through Colback’s lack of forward momentum and Atsu and Ritchie both struggled to get into the game so it was good to go in at half time still level with Forest in the ascendancy. The start of the second half followed the same pattern with nothing sticking up front, Perez again being poor and it took a game changing decision from the referee to hand us the initiative. Mills was booked for a foul on Perez and inside a couple of minutes was dismissed for dissent after throwing the ball at Gayle and following the referee consulting the fourth official. The sending off looked very soft indeed but Forest can have no complaints if you are a follower of nonsensical children’s playground related clichés.
Within a couple of minutes of the red card, we were ahead after a sublime finish from Dwight Gayle. The striker took a wayward header from a Forest defender on the volley from the edge of the box – not quite van Basten but you get the picture, to leave the keeper stunned and the crowd ecstatic after a split second delay (aka the Alex Mathie) to register that the ball had actually gone in. Fine finish from a lad having a fine season. Diame was brought on for Colback and gave us more of an outlet to put the ball up to but we were still not entirely comfortable, so it was a relief to wrap things up with ten minutes to go, with Gayle again on the mark for the 19th time this season. This wasn’t as spectacular as his first, as he took a cross down and bundled it home with his chest, but it was just as important as it allowed us a breather for the first time in the game.
Rafa brought Lazaar and Mitrovic on as late subs but there was no further goalmouth action as we coasted to an important victory. It wasn’t a vintage performance, but it could turn out to be as important to our season as the famous Norwich comeback was as without the assistance of the referee we could well have been left with a haul of just a point (if that) from our festive fixtures. As things stand, we have a comfortable lead over third place, which is all that really matters, and a chance of further revenge against a Blackburn side that deservedly turned us over on our own patch a few weeks ago on Monday. 2016 has been a funny year for United – relegation a price worth paying for me to see Rafa arrive and subsequently stay with us and I feel good about 2017 when I see the man in charge in the dugout. Happy New Year you lovely folk.
Keep the Faith
Newcastle United – Darlow 6, Yedlin 6, Lascelles 6, Clark 7, Dummett 6, Ritchie 6 (Lazaar n/a), Colback 5 (Diame 7), Hayden 6, Atsu 5, Perez 5, GAYLE 7 (Mitrovic n/a)
Ref – Stroud – 5 – Don’t think the game merited six yellows, but the sending off provided a bit of revenge
Our Fans – 7 – Good, nervy at ones-apiece but backed the side
Their Fans – 7 – Poor turnout but the ones that came were decent.
TV Highlights of the game are here
GARETH HARRISON – Follow Gareth on @truefaith1892
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