Newcastle United deserved the victory over Huddersfield

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - MARCH 10: Kenedy of Newcastle United celebrates after scoring his sides second goal during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Southampton at St. James Park on March 10, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - MARCH 10: Kenedy of Newcastle United celebrates after scoring his sides second goal during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Southampton at St. James Park on March 10, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) /
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Three massive points move Newcastle United up into 12th place and seven points above the relegation zone.

With seven games remaining in the 17/18 Premier League season, Newcastle United produced a resolute display that gives them vital breathing room above the relegation zone. They were the better team and earned the just result.

Newcastle’s last Premier League outing was the impressive 3-0 victory over Southampton, and although they came into the game following a lengthy three week break, the players carried that momentum with them in front of an attendance of 52,261.

Rafa Benitez clearly instructed his players to be aggressive from the first whistle and the St. James Park crowd were raucous all afternoon in support of their players. Huddersfield were on the back foot for the whole of the first half, with 11 men behind the ball and allowing Newcastle 68% possession and an incredible 85% pass accuracy.

Impressive loanee Kenedy had a penalty shout within the first six minutes and Matt Ritchie was denied by a good save from Huddersfield’s keeper Lössl in the opening period. The visitors were content to soak up pressure from Newcastle and played a dirty game, as English midfielder Jonathan Hogg had spats with both Jonjo Shelvey and Ayoze Perez that earned him a yellow card.

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Despite enjoying the majority of possession Newcastle were unable to make Huddersfield pay in the first half. Benitez’s men managed 10 shots in the opening 45 minutes but only 2 on target.

The best chance for the Toon came in the 28th minute with a fantastic piece of play from Shelvey. He showed great initiative from a quick freekick, playing a beautiful lobbed pass to Dwight Gayle, who produced a poor lobbed finish that was high and wide of the Huddersfield goal.

Gayle was Newcastle’s top goalscorer in the Championship with 23 league goals last season, but once again, he failed to hit the target in the 32nd minute. A cross from the right-hand side was met with poor control from Gayle, who found himself wide open in the Huddersfield penalty area. The finish was even worse as he sent the ball flying over the bar as he fell to the ground.

The Second Half

The frustration was evident as Newcastle headed into the break level at 0-0 and they were met with a more spirited Huddersfield side as the second half begun.

Both Lascelles and Lejeune were not afforded quite as much time on the ball as they were in the first half, and the Toon appeared sluggish and wasteful as both Perez and Kenedy were frequently caught trying to do too much by themselves, losing the ball much to the audible dismay of the St. James Park crowd.

Newcastle United have been guilty of letting games slip this season, and their tentative play in the second half was a testament to how Gayle’s missed chances could’ve spelled disaster on a different Saturday afternoon. Huddersfield were beginning to exploit the tiring fullbacks of Newcastle, and they had a fantastic chance to level from a Mooy corner in the 64th minute when Jorgensen’s header was denied only by his teammate and Mo Diame who were both wrestling on the line.

Changes were evidently needed and Benitez obliged, as Christian Atsu replaced Matt Ritchie in the 67th minute and had an almost immediate impact, blazing a wild shot over the bar following a promising piece of play. The biggest boost for the Toon, however, was the introduction of loanee Islam Slimani in the 74th minute, replacing Dwight Gayle to the excitement of the Toon fans.

Isaac Hayden replaced the excellent but injured Mo Diame in the 78th minute, and only one later minute Newcastle’s probing play was rewarded with a well-deserved goal. Perez played a through ball to the marauding Atsu on the right flank, and the Ghanian played a looping, dangerous cross to the far post which Lössl could only flail at with a weak hand. The ball fell to Kenedy on the left of the box, and the Brazilian showed his class with a composed pass back across goal to Perez who redeemed a poor performance by firing the ball into the back of the net.

Undoubtedly a hard-fought victory, Newcastle were nervy in the final few minutes as 5 minutes of added on time gave even the most naive Toon fans cause for concern. However, Slimani showed smart movement and positioning as he held the ball up well, and made good runs despite an obvious lack of match fitness.

The Verdict

Rafa Benitez will be delighted with the overall team performance, as every player but in an incredible shift both in attack and defense. Lascelles and Lejeune were solid, and Yedlin, in particular, had an impactful performance overlapping on the right flank numerous times creating chances.

Both Jonjo Shelvey and Mo Diame complemented each other in their performances, with Diame everywhere on the pitch sweeping up wayward Huddersfield passes and giving Shelvey the license to go forward. Shelvey showed today why perhaps he deserves a place in the England squad for the World Cup in Russia, as he kept his head despite a couple of rough challenges, and played a handful of world-class aerial passes that would make even the best Premier League midfielders blush.

A total of 18 shots but only three on target will worry Benitez, however, Newcastle are now in great position to secure another year of Premier League football on Tyneside. An away trip to Leicester is up next for Newcastle United, and although they proved 2-0 winners over Brighton this afternoon, Toon fans should be optimistic for a good result given the solidity on display today against Huddersfield.