An explosive first half hour saw us blow West Ham away and then hang on for a precious victory to lift us out of the bottom three. Jonjo Shelvey came in for the China-bound Chieck Tiote for his debut and we were out of the blocks like a shot, pressing very high up the pitch and taking the initiative from the off. We could have been one up inside two minutes when Perez was denied by Adrian and only poor control from Sissoko when bearing down on goal robbed him of a great chance but we didn’t have to wait long when Perez put us ahead inside six minutes.
We’ve been crying out for a midfielder capable of passing the ball since Cabaye left and Shelvey had an instant impact, picking out Wijnaldum with a smart ball and his fine lay off was curled beautifully by the little Spaniard past Adrian’s despairing dive. Perez is the king of that technique and it was a fantastically executed goal all round. West Ham were on the ropes and we almost scored a second shortly afterwards when the ball ping-ponged around inside the area before being hacked to safety but then they went down the other end and nearly levelled themselves, a pullback from the byline being hacked away feet away from the goal and behind for a corner by the excellent Coloccini.
Astonishingly, we were two up inside fifteen minutes with another absolute pearler. Shelvey drilled a pinpoint ball fully fifty yards to Janmaat and he took the pass in his stride on the run, got behind the fullback and zipped a ball across to Wijnaldum who buried it into the roof of the net from six yards out. Everyone was rightly purring about Shelvey’s pass but for me, Janmaat deserved as many if not more plaudits – his control and vision was superb and he was another that was outstanding today. Still we poured forward and could easily have had another couple before half time. Janmaat again fizzed a cross in that Adrian could only parry across the face of the box but we couldn’t force it home and he saved well from Mitrovic, who also swiped at a cross but only managed an air shot as their defence looked ragged. They did have another good chance themselves when Kouyate had a clear sight of goal but Eliott saved well with his legs and we went in at half time two up and with a spring in our stride.
We were brought back down to earth within five minutes of the restart though when Mbemba sold Eliott, who himself was slow off the line, short with a backpass, allowing Jelavic to nip in and round the keeper to slot home despite the despairing attempts of Dummett on the line. We looked nervy for a while as West Ham started to dominate possession and Jelavic made a nuisance of himself but they never really threatened seriously. Dummett went off, presumably injured, forcing a reshuffle that saw Saivet come on for his debut and Colback dropping back into the left back slot and we sat very deep, with the Frenchman looking slightly frozen in the spotlight.
As time ticked on, we had a few sights of goal ourselves. Mitrovic, who grafted his socks off all afternoon had a couple of half chances that were blocked and Shelvey blazed a couple over the bar when it might have been better to hold possession and it looked like we were going to be denied at the last when Kouyate met a cross just yards out but Eliott made a vital save from point blank range to gasps of collective relief. Bemusement followed when the fourth official held up six minutes of injury time but after what seemed like forever, the whistle sounded on a very satisfying victory.
Obviously Shelvey’s influence was a major positive and he had a great debut and there were some impressive performances all over the pitch from us – Eliott making a couple of vital stops, the back four on the whole very solid and Sissoko and Mitrovic again putting in a shift but by some considerable distance, the man of the match was Wijnaldum. His fitness is way above what we have been used to for a long, long time and aside from never stopping all afternoon, his touch, vision and footballing brain was second to none – add in the fact that he is our top scorer and his value to the team is priceless at the minute.
So, a good week for us at long last but we are still a long, long way from safety. Watford is as vital a game as this one and I make us one of six sides that could go down – a win down there would make the world of difference. Things are certainly brighter than they were when the final whistle went down there just a week ago though, that’s for certain
Keep the Faith
Newcastle United – Eliott 7, Janmaat 8, Coloccini 8, Mbemba 7, Dummett 7 (Saivet 5), Colback 7, Shelvey 7, Sissoko 7, WIJNALDUM 9, Perez 6 (Gouffran n/a), Mitrovic 7 (Lascelles n/a)
Ref – Swarbrick – 8 – Thought he reffed it very well, allowed play to flow – a million miles away from that knacker midweek
Our Fans – 8 – Very good when the team needed them
Their Fans – 6 – Best London support for me but quiet today
GARETH HARRISON – FOLLOW GARETH ON @truefaith1892
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