It took three games, but Newcastle finally picked up their first win of the Championship season, with a resounding 4-1 win over Reading at St James’ Park.
Dwight Gayle scored twice, and further strikes (both of which were their first for the club) from Isaac Hayden and Matt Ritchie secured the Magpies a much needed win.
But what did the win teach us? Here’s five things we learned:
Dwight Gayle Will Score Goals
He’s always been proven outside the top flight, but the longer Gayle went without scoring a goal, the more he’d have the weight of the number nine on his mind.
But tonight, he struck two goals Alan Shearer would have been proud of – the first a stunning 30 yard free kick, and the second a simple poachers tap in to put the game to bed.
The style of play hadn’t suited him in the first two games, but Gayle found a way of getting involved tonight, and took his chances perfectly.
Isaac Hayden And Jonjo Shelvey Are The Best Midfield Pair We Have
It’s still early in the season, so the central midfield partnership is still up for debate.
However, after starting two games in five days with each other, Hayden and Shelvey look to be Rafa Benitez’s chosen pair, and rightly so.
Hayden’s athleticism compliments Shelvey’s excellent passing nicely, and the former Arsenal man has proved he has an eye for goal, scoring his first for the club tonight, after netting in pre-season also.
Once Mohamed Diame returns from injury to play just ahead of them, Newcastle may have found a nice combination for the rest of the season.
Rafa Isn’t Sure Of His Best Defenders Yet
Yes, it was the second game in a week and not everyone can play every game, but in three Championship games, Benitez has chosen three different centre back partnerships.
Tonight it was the turn of Ciaran Clark (the weakest defender we have, if you believe what you read on Twitter), and he gave away the penalty that gifted Reading a way back into the match.
Club captain Jamaal Lascelles was dropped from the side, which was surprising if not deserved, after another poor defensive display against Huddersfield at the weekend.
It’ll be interesting to see if Clark’s inclusion, combined with the win, will see the former Aston Villa defender continue when Newcastle travel to Bristol City on Saturday.
Paul Dummett And Vurnon Anita Aren’t Going Anywhere
With Lascelles on the bench, local lad Dummett took the captain’s armband.
He’ll likely tweet that it was the proudest moment of his life in the coming hours, but in fairness he was the only option, with Shelvey not assured of a place in the team, and everyone else somewhat new or with question marks over their futures.
And despite the midfield rotation, Anita still found a place in the side – at right-back – which I believe is his best position in our side.
We Can Play Different Systems
At 3-1, Benitez took off number 10 Ayoze Perez, and brought Lascelles into the mix.
That meant Newcastle shifted shape to a 3-5-2 formation, a system that takes a lot of courage to play at any level.
But the Geordies looked good with Clark, Mbemba and Lascelles at the back, Anita and Dummett in the wing back roles, and scored a nice fourth goal which was finished off by Gayle.
Whether or not that system will stay for any sustained period remains to be seen, but at least it looks like Benitez has another option up his sleeve for the future if things aren’t going our way.