Rondon masterclass just what Benitez hoped for at Newcastle
It is a shirt that has been worn by so many Newcastle United heroes and legends, as well as the occasional misfit, but the club might just have found another No9 to fall in love with after this Salomon Rondon masterclass.
The Venezuelan has taken his time to justify Rafa Benitez’s relentless pursuit of him, but this was one of the most complete performances from a Newcastle striker in years.
Rondon scored twice and was only denied a hat-trick by the toe of Asmir Begovic, the Bournemouth goalkeeper, but it was his work all over the pitch that impressed.
Whether holding play up with his back to goal or running on to through balls, Rondon would stretch his marker’s legs one minute and win an arm wrestle with him the next. When Newcastle were clinging on, bombarded by Bournemouth set-pieces in the second half, he repeatedly cleared the danger. By the end, he was running on fumes.
Remarkably, when Benitez made Rondon – who is still feeling his way back to full fitness after a thigh injury – his first-choice summer striking target, there was a collective exhaling of breath in the Newcastle boardroom.
At 29, the West Bromwich Albion player was regarded as too much of a risk at £16million. There would be, no matter how well he did, little or no sellon value and his record in the West Midlands was perceived to be modest.
In the end, Benitez got his man, on loan, with Dwight Gayle heading in the other direction. It might prove to be the most important battle of wills he has won at St James’ Park as Newcastle put back-to-back wins together for the first time since April.
“When we signed Rondon we were after a
striker who could win the ball in the air, hold it up, score goals and has mobility as well,” said Benitez, his manager. “We knew he could bring something different. He can improve his fitness but he is going to get better and better.”
Rondon’s first goal was superbly created by Mo Diame, whose chipped pass, with back spin, found DeAndre Yedlin. His first-time cross picked out Rondon and although his first shot was saved, he prodded in the rebound. His second was sublime, the sort of header that generates so much power it flies like a missile, as he attacked Kenedy’s cross.
Newcastle were in control but a lengthy break, caused by a knee injury to Adam Smith of Bournemouth, meant there were eight minutes of stoppage time and they switched off. Bournemouth pulled a goal back through Jefferson Lerma and their tails were up in the second half. Dan Gosling thought he had equalised but strayed offside.
“I was not happy with the firsthalf performance,” said Eddie Howe, the Bournemouth manager, who confirmed Smith’s knee injury is a serious one. “There were better phases in the second half and I felt a second goal was coming, but we couldn’t force it in.”
At the double: Salomon Rondon celebrates after his second goal