Let’s not be fooled. Newcastle aren’t suddenly any better of a team than before but the win against Stoke saw them claim back-to-back away wins for the first time since 2014 and reap seven points from the Christmas period.
If nothing else, that is a sign of hope for Newcastle’s Premier League survival ambitions.
Prior to kick-off the teamsheet seemed to be an act of lunacy from Rafa Benitez.
We were facing one of the most important six-pointer matches of the Christmas period and were already struggling for goals from our recognised strikers, so leading the line through Ayoze Perez caused me a little concern – oh, how that worry would be proven wrong.
Newcastle came out of the gates sluggish in the game’s early stages but despite not seeing as much of the ball as Stoke the Magpies created the better chances.
All three of the early opportunities fell to Christian Atsu, who should have probably done better.
Only the third could really be excused when lovely play by DeAndre Yedlin and Perez led to Atsu having an effort at goal but a good Jack Butland save in the Stoke goal denied him.
The Magpies were turning the screw though, by this stage, and then came arguably one of the misses of the year – on the very first day of it – when Ciaran Clark inexplicably managed to fire a shot high and wide of an empty net from three yards out.
It was truly stunning, and you worried if it would come back to haunt us, but those in black and white pressed on.
Clark denied a brilliant Stoke chance when he headed a cross over the bar just minutes later, and the sides went into the half level.
It was a decent first half, much improved on recent games, but it still lacked that decisive, cutting edge. Newcastle had the build up play and with a quality striker up front you wonder just how well we could have done this season.
The second half saw some of Stoke’s players give up and down tools – most notably talisman Xherdan Shaqiri who was quickly hooked after his shocking refusal to chase after a long ball angered both the home fans and the Stoke bench.
Others still caused some threat, most notably young right back Tom Edwards and Shaqiri’s replacement Mame Biram Diouf.
However, it was Newcastle who found the breakthrough – and ultimately the decisive goal – when a lovely cross by Jacob Murphy was stabbed in by Ayoze Perez in a somewhat unorthodox manner.
It was a lovely flowing move, even if the final strike was a little scruffy, and nobody in black and white – or light blue and royal blue, as Newcastle found themselves in wearing their away kit – cared.
It put the Magpies on course for back-to-back away wins, something that hadn’t been achieved since 2014 – incidentally, when Perez scored in both games, against West Brom and Tottenham.
Karl Darlow in the Newcastle goal, who has been somewhat of a liability this season and last, deserved mention as he was faultless in the game, producing three or four magnificent, world-class saves.
The last two of those saves came in the final gasps of the match to keep out Diouf as Stoke threw everything they had forward.
Ultimately, it turned out to be enough and Newcastle claimed the victory and three points, much to Tyneside’s delight and the frustration of Stoke boss Mark Hughes, who’ll be looking worryingly over his shoulder having effectively phoned in a poor performance against Chelsea specifically to prepare for and win this game.
One other moment of note was Dwight Gayle, subbed on in the second half, going down to attempt to win a soft penalty against Kurt Zouma – keeping his once a game streak alive.
In fairness, unlike the past two against Man City and Brighton, it could be argued that it was maybe worth a penalty as it was clumsy by Zouma, but it was still soft.
It annoys me, as I think its just risking yellow cards and bans for simulation, and often its occurring in positions where just receiving the ball and shooting would be much better served.
I hope it stops, but it appears Gayle has it in his head to keep doing it until he wins one.
However, either way, it shouldn’t detract from what was an impressive performance by the Magpies to lift them up to 13th in the table and three points of 10th.
Even if the quality is still clearly missing, the heart and determination was back in spades in the team – something that will instill hope back into the Toon Army ahead of another crucial clash with Swansea in next match.