Today I take a break from discussing my thesis, heritage, history and simply bask in the joy of my favourite football team getting three precious points from one of the most disliked teams in football..
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That’s Matt Ritchie, scoring his first goal for Newcastle this season. That’s incredible, for one of Newcastle’s most consistent performers last season in which he scored 16 goals in all competitions (12 in the league). And what a game to break his duck, against Manchester United no less!
Last November when Newcastle took the lead away from home through Dwight Gayle, I knew better than to celebrate prematurely. You bask in the happiness when you can, but as a Newcastle fan, you’ve pretty much accustomed yourself to believing that some things are too good to be true. A Newcastle win, against Man Utd, away from home? Well, Paul Pogba made sure that didn’t happen – as the Toon were thumped 4-1 in the end.
And just as I was about to sleep and tell myself it’ll all be over sometime when Mike Ashley sells the club, a dear friend – who I have not heard from in months – decides to check on how I was doing, apologising for the defeat. Well, he is a Man Utd fan. And I sensed that he was full of glee that his team won. So gleeful that he couldn’t wait to gloat over the victory. I was pretty annoyed, not so much at the defeat but at his sheer joy in rubbing salt in my wounds. To gloat over a hammering of Newcastle is pretty much like kicking a half-dead man when he’s down. Apparently, he didn’t realise that Newcastle’s entire first team did not cost as much as Pogba himself!
So yesterday, as I tried to catch bits of the match amidst putting the restless and crying 14-month old son to bed, I was simply awaiting the moment where Man Utd would put the ball at the back of Newcastle’s net. I didn’t think it would be a repeat of the 4-1 mauling, but I didn’t think that they’d get any more than a draw. 1-1 maybe. I mean, let’s face it – Pogba, Lukaku and now Sanchez? But when the score remained 0-0 at half-time, I could sense a little optimism in the air. Come on ah Newcastle! my cousin sent me a message…
The second half was when I soon realised that Newcastle may just about keep a clean sheet! And who would be the architect of that but Florian Lejeune – tracking back superbly to deny Sanchez an open goal! The Frenchman may not have had the strongest of starts to the Premier League, but he looked assured on the ball and commanding off of it. If he keeps up this level of performance, 8 million pounds (a ninth of what Liverpool paid for VVD – sorry Liverpool fans, I just had to…) would seem a bargain!
And then, less than 10 minutes later, Chris Smalling decided that he would like to pretend being a forward and fake a ridiculous foul in front of the referee in Man Utd’s own half. I mean, seriously, what the hell was that Chris? And that needless dive of course contributed directly to Newcastle’s goal. Who else but Shelvey (who Smalling tried to ‘frame’ in the first place) to float the ball into the edge of Man Utd’s box as the away side were left watching when Lejeune (again) rose to head the ball down for Gayle to superbly heel in the direction of Ritchie. And if you’ve followed Newcastle last season, you know that if there is one player who will deliver, it is Matt Ritchie. And he did, calmly and spectacularly slotting the ball past de Gea into the bottom corner of the net. Well done Matt! That’s how you hit the target, Joselu!
Then Man Utd brought on the former Wallsend boy Carrick (his first game since forever) and Mata and the latter proved to be a thorn in Newcastle’s game. If there was a way back for Man Utd, it would have been through Mata. Man Utd kept up the pressure. And it was through Mata’s corner that Martial had two glorious chances to score. But he didn’t. (I don’t watch many Man Utd games but does Martial look so dull all the time? Come on dude, smile a little..) Gayle and Yedlin both blocked his asal main rembat shots.
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Towards the end when Man Utd heaved and tried to break down the Toon, they simply couldn’t. Dubravka had an amazing debut in goal. Diame continued his resurgence in front of the defence. And Shelvey.. Shelvey was everywhere! It was as if the ghost of Lotthar Matthaus possessed him just before this game. His defensive positioning, his tackling and his distribution were excellent. It’s almost like he’s starting to focus on the pitch (would you believe that?)
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And when the match ended, I threw my hands in the air, jubilant and beyond belief! What a way to end a winless run of eight matches at home? Against second-placed Man Utd. Sure, Newcastle were criticised for their approach against Man City at home recently, but you couldn’t say the same this time around. Yes, 35% possession does not speak much about their dominance during the game, but when it mattered, they delivered. They attacked, the made the most of a set piece situation (seemingly a hall-mark of Benitez’s Newcastle) and they defended with heart.
And the best thing about this is that I slept soundly yesterday and Facebook seems awfully quiet on a Monday morning – just the way I like it…