These are the most difficult matches to get up for; on one side you have Newcastle United, who are aiming for promotion and striving to win the league, going up against a bottom of the league Rotherham side, who are trying to avoid relegation.
It did not start off well for the Magpies, at all. They had opportunities but could not convert and there was a big scare at one point when Darlow mishandled an easy ball that would have given Rotherham a 1-0 lead.
After that, it was all Newcastle. Goals scored at the end of a half are typically deflating for the conceding side. Rotherham figured they’d be going into half-time with the score 0-0 versus the league leaders but in first half injury time, Jonjo Shelvey delivered a beautiful ball down the right hand flank for Yedlin, who crossed it to Daryl Murphy to make it 1-0. It was all downhill from there for the Millers.
The second half was dominated by the Magpies. Matt Ritchie added two goals and Ayoze Perez also scored one to put United back in first place in the Championship table; one point ahead of Brighton (who’ve played one less game than NUFC) and nine points ahead of 3rd placed Huddersfield.
Here are my thoughts on the 4-0 win:
SHELVEY THE MAGICIAN
Following Wednesday’s FA Cup win versus Birmingham, where Jonjo Shelvey was the star of the show, he was man-marked and followed across the entire pitch today; at times by two players from Rotherham. Not having him for 5 matches due to suspension was a vital blow to United and it was apparent on the pitch how much the club was missing his creativity in the midfield.
His impact wasn’t as apparent today as it was on Wednesday but he did still play a big part in two of the four goals. The first by delivering a remarkable free kick that landed on Yedlin’s foot, which lead to Murphy’s goal. The second was a perfect through ball to Matt Ritchie.
There is no doubt that Jonjo is the best centre midfielder in the Championship, you can even argue that he’s the best player in the league. However, his biggest issue has remained the same for years now: his temperament. Until he can learn to control that, Shelvey will always be susceptible to harming his team. For now, Newcastle will most definitely take the good (a lot of it) that comes with the bad from Jonjo.
Rafa Benitez has been preaching since the beginning of the season the importance of depth in this league. The number of games played, injuries and the AFCON will carry a heavy burden on the availability of players. With Dwight Gayle and Mitrovic hurt, Daryl Murphy was the next man up.
Murphy held his own today, despite having to fill the shoes of the top scorer in the league and he might have to do it for a few more games. The link-up play between Perez and Murphy was very good and it’s nice for Rafa to know that his third choice striker can have an impact and contribute. He scored a crucial game-winner last weekend against Brentford and opened up the scoring today for the Magpies.
MAN-MARKING PLAN BACKFIRES ON ROTHERHAM
Matt Ritchie scored his eighth league goal today and has four goals in the last four days (two vs Birmingham on Wednesday). Ritchie, just like Shelvey, is another player Newcastle cannot afford to lose; he plays a vital role for the club and for Benitez’s success.
Today he was was the beneficiary of Shelvey being followed and man-marked; it opened up the whole field for everyone else. It may have worked at first for Rotherham, but Rafa made sure to switch it up and use that to his advantage.
When Jonjo was checking off the defender in the midfield to ask for the ball from his centre-backs, he had someone on his back, sometimes two players, meaning the flanks and other parts of the pitch were a lot less occupied by the opposition. Rotherham wanted to make sure Shelvey didn’t have time with the ball, they clearly planned that ahead of the match but Newcastle used alternative routes, which, in part, benefited Ritchie and others.
OUR SQUAD IS STRETCHED AND WE NEED REINFORCEMENTS
With Rolando Aarons, Dwight Gayle, and Mitrovic out injured and Mo Diame, Chancel Mbemba and Atsu away for the AFCON, the club’s depth is evidently being challenged if you look at today’s bench. Players like Jamie Sterry, Ameobi, and Barlaser were selected for the bench by Rafa Benitez; some due to their performance mid-week, others due to the lack of options.
To no one’s surprise, the club is looking for players in the transfer and rumours are that they are targeting another winger, midfielder and perhaps a striker. If Gouffran or Ritchie were to get hurt, the options out wide are very thin – the Townsend rumours make a lot of sense and he would be a perfect fit.
We saw what the team looked like without Shelvey running the midfield and it would not be a pleasant sight to see him miss any more games than he already has – the Fabian Delph rumours also make a lot of sense. Time is ticking in the transfer window but I truly believe that if Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United can somehow pull off the signing of both players mentioned above, it would go a long way into securing depth and a title push/promotion.
I don’t think Karl Darlow has gotten enough credit this season. It was quite clear that the club was struggling under Sels but when Rafa turned to Darlow, the season turned around. That was one of the turning points of the season.
Home and away splits this season compared to the Pardew/McClaren regime are night and day. For years now, the club has struggled away from home but this season, Newcastle United have picked up more away points than points at home; go figure.
Talk to you next week (if the game is televised!).