A great start to the new year for Newcastle United, as a late goal from Ayoze Perez earned the Magpies a 1-0 victory over Stoke City.
The perfectly timed pass from Jacob Murphy on the wing to Ayoze Perez in the center of the penalty area led to the lone goal of the match. Aside from Perez’s late strike in the second half, there were several other moments that are worth discussing. Here are five things we learned from the victory over Stoke.
Another Clean Sheet
The 1-0 victory over Stoke City marks two successive clean sheets for Newcastle United. The lively back-four of DeAndre Yedlin, Jamaal Lascelles, Ciaran Clark and Javier Manquillo frustrated the Stoke City attack by blocking most of their shots as a result of close marking.
While Karl Darlow has been criticized for his form in some of his appearances this season, he made some difficult saves towards the end of the match to maintain United’s 1-0 lead. With this performance, Darlow may have done enough to renew the competition with Rob Elliot for the starting role in goal.
It would be inaccurate to state that Newcastle United dominated the first half against Stoke City, however, the Magpies were the more dangerous side as they created multiple scoring opportunities. Christian Atsu missed a good chance by choosing to go for placement rather than power.
Ciaran Clark might have had the miss of the season as he simply had to tap the ball into the back of the net after falling to his feet, but the Irish international blasted the ball over the goal. Newcastle United could have been up 2-0 by halftime if it were not for these missed opportunities.
The entire team played well on Monday, but Jonjo Shelvey deserves recognition for his contribution to the victory over Stoke City. Shelvey reminded everyone of his great vision as he successfully switched the field to both wingers on multiple occasions and constantly sought to thread the ball to Ayoze Perez and Dwight Gayle in the second half.
He has faced much criticism during the season for his poor disciplinary record, but the English international showcased his abilities against Stoke City to remind us all of his potential to be a great midfielder.
Newcastle United seemed to have taken notes from their mistakes against Brighton and Manchester City, as they emulated the strong passing performance from their victory against West Ham on December 23.
Although it was Mohamed Diame starting in place of Mikel Merino, the Magpies were still able to string together meaningful passes that moved the ball up the pitch to create more scoring opportunities. The Magpies still have some work to do, but they passed the ball around like a top-ten club on Monday afternoon.
Playing four matches in nine days is a challenge for any manager when it comes to preparing his team and managing the number of minutes for key players. Although the performance against Brighton was disappointing, Rafa Benitez found a way to motivate the Magpies to come out victorious away from home.
It is also fair to say that Benitez outsmarted his managerial counterpart, Mark Hughes, on the sideline by presenting a misleading formation on paper with one striker. Benitez allowed Atsu to cut-in behind and alongside Ayoze Perez to occasionally serve as a second forward. Overall, Benitez deserves credit for preparing his Magpies well on such short notice.