What a difference a week makes in football. From the embarrassing display against Huddersfield last week, and a poor cup performance in midweek, the Magpies bounced back emphatically against West Ham.
All we as Newcastle fans ask for is for the players, each and every time they pull on that black and white shirt, is to fight for it.
We don’t ask for the world. We’re not expecting the side to win every game. All we want is to come away from each game proud of the performance that our players have put in.
The game against West Ham was that performance in a nutshell, even irrespective of the 3-0 scoreline. It was the performance that was truly most inspiring.
Under Rafa Benitez’s guidance, it is clear that this Newcastle side has a firm tactical structure that the players are finally coming to understand.
There also seems to be a renewed enthusiasm and work rate instilled among the players, with every player in a black and white shirt attacking West Ham from minute one. We defended from the front, putting pressure on every Hammers player as soon as they got the ball.
Our front five or six players – Joselu and Perez up front, with Ritchie and Atsu out wide, and Merino and Hayden pushing from midfield – were a relentless surge against West Ham, and it forced them to have to play the ball long or lose it nearly every time.
The first goal, Joselu’s first for the club on his home debut, was the epitome of this high-energy pressing style.
Young West Ham player Declan Rice was caught dallying on the ball, and was closed down by a combination of Ritchie and Perez. The ball broke out to Merino, who slipped a kind of both beautifully weighted and over-hit pass into Christian Atsu, who had the composure and sense to just drag it back across the box for Joselu to bundle in.
It likely won’t be the prettiest goal Joselu ever scores, but it gets his account up and running and hopefully it will be one of many in black and white.
Another thing that was proven in this game, which surprised me somewhat, was just how poor Joe Hart was compared to previous seasons. Now, whether this is actually just the case that the other goalkeepers in the league have dramatically improved, and so by comparison he looks worse, or if he has genuinely lost some ability I don’t know but he didn’t look assured at any time.
Nevertheless, he is still clearly a good professional and a brilliant mentor figure to have at West Ham. Immediately after 18-year-old Rice’s mistake that led to Joselu’s goal, Hart rushed out to reassure the young player. Whether he is still cut out as a great goalkeeper, I couldn’t say, but clearly he has the kind of attitude that means he has a future in football even after his playing days.
After the goal, it was much of the same from the Magpies, pressing West Ham and breaking through with chance after chance. In some respects, our finishing could have been better – not that after a 3-0 win, anyone on Tyneside is really going to complain of that.
West Ham only really offered one heart-in-mouth moment for the Newcastle fans, which came from a long drive by Aaron Cresswell, which was spilled by Elliot’s initial save into the path of Javier Hernandez.
Known for his finishing ability in the box, he very impressively managed to get a solid contact on a ball that was at an impossible angle to his body, but a combination of a second Elliot save, which took all the pace from the ball, and a last-ditch hooked clearance by Clark saved the clean sheet and kept the momentum with the team.
The second goal, netted by the aforementioned clean sheet-saving Ciaran Clark, came after some exceptional pressuring from Matt Ritchie after losing the ball, doing very well to avoid giving away a foul on Lanzini.
Having won the ball back, he played a quick one-two and broke towards the byline, before delivering a delightful ball into the box, which Clark headed clinically into the corner of the net.
Later in the game, Joselu – who looked dead on his feet, which is unsurprising given the amount of effort he put in as the lone striker role – was withdrawn for Mitrovic.
A cult hero on Tyneside, within twenty minutes he’d demonstrated both why people love and hate him at Newcastle.
Wasting one brilliant chance when fed by Perez, he struck his shot straight at Joe Hart. The next chance he got, however, he didn’t repeat the same misfortune.
Making a perfect run against the defence, he was slotted through by Perez once more, and calmly faked one side, and then rounded an already diving and wrong-footed Hart, before tapping it calmly into the empty net. It was a controlled and composed finish, and so too was his celebration – perhaps Sterling should take note.
It would have been a great, controlled performance from the big Serbian forward, had he not ruined just a few moments before the goal by throwing an unseen elbow into a West Ham player. It was almost identical to the situation that saw Marco Arnautovic see red at Southampton a week earlier, but this time Mitrovic got lucky.
The referee didn’t see it, but we will have to wait and see if there is any retrospective action. It was a stupid decision – though not the stupidest of the week, as Watford’s Miguel Britos won that award (likely the season’s stupidest decision, in fact) – but one that shows exactly why Benitez doesn’t trust him to lead the line.
Nobody doubts the quality and talent that Mitrovic has, but every time he plays you are taking a risk.
As a Newcastle fan, I hate that this is the position we’re in with him, because I really do like the player and the physicality and passion he puts into his every touch in a black and white shirt – helped by the fact he supported the team as a young player when back in Serbia – but in as competitive a league as the Premier League, you can’t risk stupid red cards costing you games. Jonjo Shelvey has done that once to us already, and we’ve only played three games.
However, negatives aside, it was a much-improved performance from Newcastle and hopefully we can take that desire and fight forward and into the next set of games after the international break.