My last match report duty was post-West Ham and it was one in which I waxed lyrical about the performances collectively and individually. And then we had two fairly miserable performances against Man City and Brighton. Now I’m back and I’m able to utilise hyperbole and make outlandish statements about how good we were. Football, eh?
United has made an excellent start to 2018. From the elation of West Ham to the anger/annoyance/misery of Brighton and now to elation again all within the space of 9 days. NUFC are up to 13th in the table and the team has picked-up 7 points from 3 fixtures against opposition that we can certainly consider as relegation rivals.
This massive 3 points against Stoke was deservedly earned with the help of a starting 11 I’m almost certain no NUFC fan would’ve envisaged pre-match. This was rotation in full swing with what looked like Atsu and Perez playing up front. It was good to see Shelvey starting as the feeling I had pre-match was that he’s due a decent game and the Stoke midfield didn’t particular induce fear. Joe Allen is very highly-rated but I’m not sure what that’s based on. Shaquiri is a gifted footballer but has the physique and speed of a tub of Haagen-Dazs. Additionally, add Charlie Adam to Shaquiri and, surely, you’ve got the slowest midfield in 21st century professional football? Manquillo came back in and Diame’s presence ensured that the central midfield was completely changed.
And it worked. In fact, in the first half it worked an absolute treat. If we’d been 3 or 4 up by half-time there’s no way football manager and grandmother of 8, Mark Hughes, could’ve had any complaints. We were dominant against what was an utterly pedestrian Stoke side. Stoke as a team were clearly struggling, they have the look of a side not playing for their gaffer, but NUFC made them look even worse than they are. But regardless of Stoke, you could see it in the players – they looked up for it, determined and focussed. Atsu could’ve had a couple before the break and HOW THE FUCK Ciaran Clark missed I will never understand. Gravity, physics and trigonometry were all warped for that split-second of time. I started to think Pardew had a point when he blamed ‘science’ for being him being a load of old shit.
I’m writing this having not seen any highlights or replays so there’s every chance I’ll have missed so many little details but a few incidents from the first half stuck out. Primarily the decisions that we didn’t get. I thought that Stoke could’ve had two yellow cards within the first 5 minutes (Allen and Adam I believe) and there was one particular piece of piss-poor refereeing that had me others around me incredulous. Atsu steamed forward and Allen (I think) pushed him in the back. A clear foul as the advantage was played and an obvious yellow card when play stopped. Nothing. It was almost as if the ref had forgotten about the foul that had occurred 2 minutes earlier. I genuinely feel that the standard of officiating in the Premier League isn’t that much better than the shite we had to put up with last season.
The second-half continued in the same vein as the first. Shelvey was dominating, Diamé was working so hard that it was allowing Jonjo the space and time to do what he does best. Again, it felt like one of those days where the expression on his face and the way he carried himself around the pitch meant that you knew he’d be on form. Murphy started really coming in to his own and his confidence visibly grew as the game went on. The Stoke players were backing off and he went for it on several occasions. If anything, there were a couple of occasions where he probably could’ve continued after beating the first and second man but this is something that will come as he plays more and gains more self-belief.
The young lad with the Mam from Birtley then set-up what proved to be the winning goal. A superb run, a magnificent cross and Perez there to leather it home. The scenes were phenomenal in the away end. The away crowd had been vociferous and up for it from the off (I reckon some people had definitely just topped up from NY Eve exertions….and some just hadn’t yet been to bed) and the goal just sent 3200 people into full-scale, hugging strangers, screaming expletives in to the air happiness. A beautiful experience. We should’ve had a penalty before that mind and the fact that Gayle got nothing for Zouma’s obvious foul just added to the general state of disbelief at the ref’s ‘performance’.
Stoke inevitably then had to start pushing for a goal. Darlow stood firm. Some of those saves were ridiculous and it’s a very good thing indeed to see the lad pick-up and keep 2 consecutive clean sheets. Hopefully he can kick on from here. He was excellent today.
Despite Stoke’s pressure we probably could’ve done better with a couple of breakaway opportunities. Hayden had a chance to play in Gayle that unfortunately didn’t happen and then he took a shot a few minutes later that Butland saved comfortably.
The final whistle brought roars of satisfaction. This was a really good performance by coaching staff, players and fans. Special mentions from me go to Manquillo, Diamé, Pérez and Darlow. Obviously, Jamaal Lascelles at the back just makes the defence a completely different proposition to what it is when he isn’t in the side. Swansea at home is huge and 3 points there, plus a couple of new signings, would set us up superbly for the rest of the season. Happy 2018 everyone and HOWAY THE LADS.
NORMAN RILEY – FOLLOW NORMAN ON @likethegoat
The true faith match-day newsletter, THE SPECIAL from this game is still available. Just click here.
The latest issue of true faith (TF 135) is now available for you to download. Just click on the image below and its all yours. You can download and read the fanzine offline if you choose. The true faith fanzine is completely FREE of charge and we think it works great on a tablet or i-pad for the old school, read the fanzine whilst stretched on the sofa or sitting on the netty experience.
true faith is Newcastle United’s longest running and most widely read fanzine. It is one of the UK’s most popular, well-known and respected fanzine titles. Since 1999, true faith has been providing the alternative view on life at Newcastle United and football in general. true faith is predominantly written and designed by people who pay to watch Newcastle United home and away.
We all hope you enjoy it.