A vastly improved performance saw us record our first win of the season against a poor Reading side to get some much needed points on the board. Benitez again shook things up, with captain Lascelles, Janmaat and Aarons benched from Saturday to make way for Clark, Ritchie and Gouffran – brave and decisive decisions that paid off for us.
We were by far the better side from the word go and looked to have taken the lead inside five minutes when Gayle turned home a lovely cross from Hayden but amidst the celebrations, the ref pulled a yellow card out and booked the striker for a handball. There was much more tempo and movement to our play though, with Hayden particularly impressive all night in a more advanced role and he got the goal that put us ahead on 20 minutes, shooting low into the bottom corner after a ball into the box fell to him twelve yards out.
Reading had looked powder puff to that point but the goal roused them a bit and they came within inches of levelling the game when Beerens curled a fine effort back off the bar from the corner of the box with Sels well beaten and they equalised against the run of play right on half time. The goal came from the spot after Clark, who was poor on his debut lunged in with a clumsy challenge in the box, upending Swift in the process. McLeary stepped up and dispatched the penalty and the team left the pitch to a mixture of groans and boos directed at the referee – I thought it was a foul straight away mind, having not yet seen a replay.
We didn’t have to wait long in the second half to get our noses in front again though and this time it was a penalty of our own that put us ahead. Ritchie put a corner across and their defender was judged to have pulled at Clark’s shirt in the box. Ritchie himself stepped up and struck a beautiful penalty right into the bottom corner and the winger was again excellent, covering some ground over the course of the game and looking a danger every time he was on the ball.
As in the first half, the goal saw us go to sleep somewhat as Reading again got on top. They had a couple of half chances, with Sels never looking entirely convincing in net and Dummett again looking uncomfortable at left back as the majority of their moves came from the flanks. It was a distinct relief when we gave ourselves some breathing space and it was the goal of the game that put us 3-1 up.
We won a free kick a good twenty yards out and Dwight Gayle stepped up to curl an unstoppable effort past Al-Habsi and into the top corner. A fine strike and a far better performance from the centre forward, who put himself about and looked a lot livelier than on his previous two outings.
The goal allowed Rafa to bring on his three subs with Lascelles, Colback and Aarons all entering the fray and we added a fourth in the final minute. Again, Hayden took a lot of credit for the goal, hassling their full back to win the ball on the byline and his cross was deflected to Gayle for a tap in at the back post. In all honesty, the scoreline flattered us but we were definitely worth the three points and in reality, that was what mattered tonight.
There were a lot of encouraging signs – Ritchie, Hayden and Gayle all shone, Shelvey looked a lot more interested and the win will be a big confidence booster ahead of a tough trip to Ashton Gate on Saturday. Worries still persist defensively and on the evidence of the first three games, I would say that the only defender I would have any real confidence in would be Mbemba with both new signings at centre back looking distinctly ropey and Dummett clearly not being a left back.
Still, we’re off the mark and there could well be more signings to come ahead of this weekend’s match. Glass definitely half full.
Newcastle United – Sels 5, Anita 6, Mbemba 6, Clark 4, Dummett 5, Ritchie 8 (Aarons n/a), HAYDEN 9, Shelvey 6, Gouffran 6 (Colback n/a), Perez 5 (Lascelles 6), Gayle 8
Ref – Madeley – 6 – Another slightly ropey Championship ref – gave some yellows that were never bookings and let some wilder challenges go unpunished
Our Fans – 6 – On the whole pretty good, but there’s a sizeable minority that are dying to have a whinge, with a collective groan after every misplaced ball. We’re not going to win every game 5-0 and be Champions by Christmas man
Their Fans – 2 – Tory nonentities
Keep the Faith
GARETH HARRISON – Follow Gareth on @truefaith1892
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