Newcastle traveled two hours south on Saturday to face one-win Rotherham. Rafa Benitez made two changes to the squad that won Wednesday’s thriller against Norwich, both to the right side of the team. After serving his 3 game suspension for the red card he received in the loss to Wolves, Vurnon Anita replaced DeAndre Yedlin at right back. Secondly, Christian Atsu made his debut in the starting eleven on the right wing, replacing Matt Ritchie.
What’s there to say about the first 40 minutes of the game? Rotherham put up one hell-of-a-fight and it looked like Newcastle might drop points to a team that they outclassed by a mile.
The Millers came out playing very physically and Newcastle couldn’t seem to find a rhythm. Rotherhams’ game plan seemed simple enough: tackle hard and often, be organized at the back, and put lots of long balls over the top of their opponent.
Only a bit of individual brilliance from Christian Atsu saved the first half from being a total loss (? No undo button on my phone). After receiving the ball, Jonjo Shelvey laid the ball off to Atsu, who took his man on one-on-one. After some nice footwork, he was able to get the ball on to his left foot and float it over the goalkeeper, into the side netting. 1-0 Newcastle.
The second half was much of the same. Newcastle had the ball a bit more but showed very little going forward. There were a few isolated chances for the Magpies but they never delivered. Unless you're a masochist, you probably didn’t enjoy watching this game. Regardless, we left New York stadium with all 3 points. Newcastle outshot their opponents 20(6)-10(1) while holding the ball more 60.1-39.9.
Huddersfield won away at Ipswich Town 1-0 to maintain their place at the top of the table. Norwich plays the late game today so, for now, we are in second place with 22 points.
Food for thought:
I grabbed this just after Matt Richie came on for Christian Atsu in the 67th minute. Yoan Gouffran had a nice game. As usual, he worked his socks off and actually lead Newcastle with 6 shots. Paul Dummett did what Paul Dummett does best (strong defensively and was rarely seen past the midway line) and Newcastle kept a clean sheet. Benitez clearly values an organized back four (especially away from home), but it seems like there is too much of a sacrifice being made offensively. Instead of going for a second goal, Rafa chose to take off Newcastle’s most dangerous looking player (Atsu), swap in Mitrovic for Gayle, and then bring in a third center back (Hanley) to hold on until the final whistle. Rotherham wasn’t generating chances with two Newcastle center backs on the field, so there didn’t seem to be any reason to throw a third one on. Lazaar needs to be given a chance to bomb forward and get quality balls into the box, otherwise, teams will be able to gameplan too easily against us from here on out.
-Howay the Lads