Newcastle United captain Jamaal Lascelles became Newcastle’s top scorer as his powerful header led the side to their third successive victory and climb into the top four.
Claimed to be the Premier League’s crisis club before the season began, Newcastle fans saw our team climb into uncharted territory with a third straight victory: fourth place in the Premier League.
Now, even if the pundits say we expect too much on Tyneside, everyone understands we aren’t going to remain here for the remainder of the season, but it certainly is nice to enjoy it while it lasts.
The performance against Stoke City, once again against the backdrop of a vociferous crowd, was stunning, and had Joselu actually struck the target, we could have been closer to double figures by full time.
For all the praise Jamaal Lascelles, rightfully, has received from these past two matches, Matt Ritchie has been our unsung hero. He has made our team tick going forward, and is one of the best signings in black and white for a good number of years.
Last year, he bossed the Championship but was touted as being too good for the league so it was expected. This year, up against the big guns, he seems to have made it his mission to prove that it wasn’t just weaker opposition that let him shine last season.
As Newcastle fans, we couldn’t be happier to see such a challenge unfold.
It was a delightful ball from the aforementioned Ritchie which led to the first goal, as he curled the ball to the back post where an onrushing Christian Atsu couldn’t miss.
It was a beautifully worked goal, and something Newcastle’s Premier League teams of recent years have been woefully missing.
St James’ Park loved it.
Newly signed striker Joselu, desperate to score against his former club, appeared to have put too much pressure on himself before the game and simply couldn’t find the target, or else we would have been out of sight of Stoke in an instant.
First he lashed a shot wide when he had time to take an assured touch, before a Yedlin shot deflected into his feet as he had only the keeper to beat.
In fairness to Jack Butland, he rushed out well and made himself a big obstacle, but if you are to be a successful striker in the Premier League, those are the chances you need to take. Joselu didn’t, instead stabbing the ball into the midriff of the Stoke goalkeeper.
Within seconds of the restart, Joselu then completed his hat-trick of misses, being played clean through in front of the Gallowgate end. The fans roared, expecting the ball to ripple the back of the net, but instead saw the Spaniard blaze over.
Captain Lascelles was also guilty of missing a glorious chance in the first half, heading what looked like an easier header wide of the mark. He, however, would atone for his error.
Those missed chances made it look ever more like the game was going to have a bittersweet taste, when Xherdan Shaqiri curled in an impressive strike from outside the box in the 57th minute.
Elliot could do nothing to deny the strike, which as much as it hurt to see go in, could not be described as any other than a good finish.
Stoke used their goal to gain a little momentum and, but for a world-class save from Rob Elliot, would have seen a second after Mame Biram Diouf got a header goal bound. The save was outstanding and is the reason no Newcastle fan is upset at Elliot being the club’s number one.
Then, in the 66th minute, another bursting run from Christian Atsu saw him break free of the Stoke defence and a long leg of on-loan defender Kurt Zouma seemed to hack him down.
It looked a certain penalty, and like just about every other Newcastle fan, I was screaming for a decision. The TV replays did show Zouma getting the slightest of nicks on the ball first, but there was no possible way for the referee to have seen it – he quite simply bottled the decision, and luckily for him it turned out to be the correct one.
Incensed, Jamaal Lascelles spent the preparation for the next corner berating the referee and, in a genuinely comedic way, appeared to simply wave off the referee in frustration to run into the box as the corner was kicked.
From that run, he managed to get a thunderous header on the ball, and it rippled into the back of the net. The power on the header suggested he was perhaps taking out some frustration from the previously not given penalty decision.
Not a bad way to respond to feeling an injustice against your team, though.
The Magpies managed to hold on for the remainder of the game, but not without some threats from Stoke. Throwing on Peter Crouch and reverting to a more classic Stoke tactic of old – Route One football – they caused Newcastle some issues, but the defence marshaled them well.
Choupo-Moting, fresh from two goals against Manchester United the previous weekend, blazed over a crouch knockdown, whilst Diouf – who was playing for Stoke as a striker/full back hybrid (I don’t understand it either) – headed wide a golden chance at the death.
At times it wasn’t the most assured performance from Newcastle, but we looked like a genuine Premier League force and at times a real danger.
Also, the Premier League crisis club is in fourth… yes, fourth! Just for that fact alone, this weekend’s victory felt so much sweeter on Tyneside.