Benítez suf­fers the back­lash of a Hernán­dez brace

The Observer - Sport - - Football Premier League -

Felipe An­der­son will surely haunt DeAn­dre Yedlin’s mem­ory for some con­sid­er­able time . The Brazil­ian’s dev­as­tat­ingly in­tel­li­gent change of pace pe­ri­od­i­cally un­hinged New­cas­tle United’s en­tire back four but, as his specifi c marker, Rafael Benítez’s United States in­ter­na­tional right- back en­dured a par­tic­u­larly chas­ten­ing af­ter­noon. His sense of self - es­teem may take a while to re­cover.

If An­der­son desta­bilised his hosts, New­cas­tle suf­fered the fur­ther in­dig­nity of dis­sec­tion by Robert Sn­od­grass’s left- footed foot pre­ci­sion and were ul­tima ul­ti­mately grate­ful that Javier Javie Hernán­dez con­verted only two of the chance chances that came his way. By the time An­der­son cl claimed a richly mer­ited stopp stop­page- time third, the sense sen of Ge­ordie op­ti­mism en­gen­dered en by Benítez’s side’ side’s re­cent three- game win­ning w run had long since sinc evap­o­rated. “Felipe’s still st learn­ing the Premier League L but he’s im­provin im­prov­ing with ev­ery game,” said a con­tented Manuel Pel­le­grini who re­vealed Hernán­dez’s re­cent ap­pear­ances have been re­stricted by a nasty virus. “I’m so happy for Javier,” said West Ham’s man­ager. “He’s been fi ve weeks ill.”

All in all it was a day on which the £ 100m in­vested by West Ham last sum­mer seemed shrewd busi­ness while New­cas­tle’s £ 20m trans­fer mar­ket profi t ap­peared high- risk folly rather than pru­dence.

For­tune be­gan frown­ing on New­cas­tle as Hernán­dez gave West Ham an 11th- minute lead , his goal co­in­cid­ing with the late ar­rival of a mi­nor­ity of fans who had de­layed their en­try to the ground to pre­cisely the same mo­ment. The idea was to stage a “walk- in” protest to high­light the over­all aw­ful­ness of Mike Ash­ley’s 11- year own­er­ship but it rather backfi red. As West Ham cel­e­brated, the strag­glers took their seats to a vol­ley of boos from the ma­jor­ity of sup­port­ers who feared the demon­stra­tion would un­der­mine the home per­for­mance.

Sure enough, as soon as the mil­i­tants started shuffl ing in, Benítez’s de­fence suf­fered a con­cen­tra­tion lapse and Javier Man­quillo al­lowed Sn­od­grass suffi cient space to curl in a gor­geous left- footed, right- wing, cross. All that re­mained was for the un­marked Hernán­dez to time his con­nect­ing run per­fectly be­fore ex­tend­ing his right foot and glee­fully sweep­ing the ball beyond Martin Dubravka from close range.

New­cas­tle may claim they were dis­tracted by those rip­ples of 11th- minute move­ment in the Gal­low­gate End but Man­quillo, re­called for a rare out­ing at left- back, al­ready looked a weak link against Sn­od­grass. Had Benítez re­ally been right to for­get the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fi x it” maxim and aban­don the back three which had served him so well at Burn­ley last Mon­day? That trin­ity’s dis­man­tling, left Ciaran Clark, very much the hero of Turf Moor, warm­ing the home bench along­side Ja­maal Las­celles and Jonjo Shelvey. As An­der­son’s pacily in­ci­sive ad­vances down the left of Pel­le­grini’s 4- 4- 2 for­ma­tion il­lu­mi­nated the raini­est and gloomi­est of Ty­ne­side De­cem­ber af­ter­noons, the lat­ter pair surely saw their chances of swift re­calls en­hanced.

With a sod­den, awk­wardly tricky sur­face en­sur­ing that chances came and went at both ends, no one was en­tirely in con­trol, though, and Ay­zoe Pérez spurned three de­cent open­ings for New­cas­tle. Un­til Hernán­dez reg­is­tered his sec­ond, West Ham’s lead al­ways looked frag­ile. When De­clan Rice hooked a ball for­ward, the spo­rad­i­cally bril­liant Marko Ar­nau­tovic fl icked a header down into the path of Hernán­dez whose surge into the area con­cluded with a low shot, side- footed beyond Dubravka. Like Pérez, the Mex­i­can had missed some de­cent open­ings but he fi nally scored again by con­vert­ing surely the most diffi cult of the lot.

Not to be eclipsed, An­der­son ap­pro­pri­ately en­joyed the last word, con­nect­ing with the sub­sti­tute Jack Wil­shere’s slick counter- at­tack­ing pass and shoot­ing left - footed into the bot­tom cor­ner. By then Pérez had been with­drawn – and jeered off – af­ter fl uffi ng a close- range header and a cou­ple of shots – not to men­tion look­ing an er­satz No10. Small won­der Benítez is des­per­ate to sign At­lanta United’s £ 25m rated Paraguay play­maker Miguel Almirón next month. Much may hinge on Ash­ley’s will­ing­ness – or re­luc­tance – fi nally to spec­u­late to ac­cu­mu­late.

IAN MACNICOL/ GETTY IM­AGES

 Javier Hernán­dez scores the fi rst of his two goals af­ter 11 min­utes just as a sec­tion of fans ar­rived for their ‘ walk- in’ protest against Mike Ash­ley

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