Matt is hitting a Rich vein of form for the Magpies
Newcastle 2 Stoke City 1
NEWCASTLE United registered their third straight Premier League victory for the first time in three years by defeating Stoke City 2-1 at St James’ Park.
Christian Atsu put the Magpies ahead during the first half, before Xherdan Shaqiri curled in an excellent equaliser for the visitors.
But the home side ensured it was a happy return to the dugout for Rafa Benitez following his operation as captain Jamaal Lascelles headed in the winning goal for the second match in succession.
This was a thoroughly entertaining top-flight encounter on Tyneside – and here, NUFC Writer Chris Waugh takes us through what we learned from another huge victory for Newcastle...
Ritchie and Lascelles will be vital to United’s success this term
If this duo can repeat this every week, Newcastle will score a tonne of goals from set pieces this season.
Last week at Swansea, Matt Ritchie curled in a corner which Lascelles leapt into the air to head home.
This time around, that same duo combined to restore the Magpies’ lead at a crucial moment when Stoke were beginning to take control following their equaliser.
Ritchie whipped a corner into the area, his captain jumped above his marker and directed the ball at goal. It went above Jack Butland’s head, bounced off the underside of the bar and over the line.
And this was after Ritchie had delivered a delicious cross for Atsu to tap in at the back post and open the scoring.
In fact, it was Ritchie who made United tick all game. Lascelles is the captain and commanding voice out on the pitch, but it is Ritchie’s intensity and dynamism which really drives his team on.
That duo are going to be vital to United’s success this season.
After offering an indepth firsthand account of his ordeal back on his sofa while watching the Swansea City win a s l i mmed- d own Benitez was back in the dugout at St James’ Park.
The 57-year-old lost halfa-stone in the aftermath of his operation and, though he is not fully free of discomfort, he is up and walking again – though he did not move into the technical area until the second half.
Donning a blue over-
the coat, Benitez stood up briefly to pass instructions on to his side when the game was in the balance, though for the most part he remained seated.
Assistant Mikel Antia had taken up almost permanent residence in the technical area at the Liberty, assisted by Paco de Miguel Moreno on occasion.
And Antia continued to adopt such a role, passing on instructions from Benitez to his players – and even arguing the fourth official about a few decisions.
At one stage, he even appeared to suggest that Xherdan Shaqiri had dived to win a free-kick.
Anyway, despite Benitez being unable to stand on the touchline for long, his presence was still welcomed by the home fans – who regularly chanted his name.
With or without Benitez present, Newcastle are winning at the moment.
What was all that fuss about full-backs? When the transfer window closed, Benitez was left furious by the Magpies’ failure to sign a new leftback. Paul Dummett is out until N o v e m b e r , DeAndre Yedlin was still sidelined at that stage, while the Magpies manager is clearly unsure about some of his other left-back options.
Jesus Gamez deputised on the leftdefensive flank against Swansea due to Chancel Mbemba’s hamstring injury, with Javier Manquillo continuing at right-back.
Yet Gamez dropped out of the matchday squad completely against Stoke – with Mbemba returning far sooner than predicted in his native Democratic Republic of Congo.
The centre-half once again filled in on the left.
MIKEL Merino oozes class in the middle. Jamaal Lascelles is captain fantastic at the moment. But it is Matt Ritchie who really makes Newcastle United tick.
The St James’ Park crowd sing about his magic hat, and the 28-year-old does appear to hold some sort of sorcery powers over the football at the moment.
Four assists in five Premier League appearances this season, including two exquisite deliveries for both goals in the 2-1 victory over Stoke City, highlight how important Ritchie is to this side. Only two of the Magpies’ six Matt Ritchie celebrates the opening goal against Stoke goals in the league so far this season have not directly involved the winger.
Last season, Rafa Benitez stressed that Ritchie – who scored 12 goals and provided seven assists in the Magpies’ Championship-winning campaign – was a top-flight player in the making.
He had performed well for AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League during the 2015/16 campaign without excelling, but Benitez had spotted the raw talent.
When Lee Charnley was reluctant to meet the Cherries’ £12million asking price for the Scotland international last summer, Benitez told him Ritchie would prove value for money even at that supposedly-inflated price. The United manager knew this was a player who could shine in the top flight, not just the second tier.
Just 14 months on, and Ritchie has repaid that £12m – and then some.
It is not just the assists that he provides, or even the goals – which will soon arrive in the top flight – that make Ritchie the single most-important player in this Newcastle side.
His intensity out on the pitch, from the first minute until the very last, rubs off on his team-mates. He