Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Fortnight on, United Are Finally Firing on All Cylinders

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Fortnight on, United Are Finally Firing on All Cylinders

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Waugh Sports Writer

tWO weeks ago, Tyneside was nervous. Two weeks ago, serious doubts existed. Two weeks ago, Newcastle United were winless.

A fortnight on, Rafa Benitez's Magpies have embarked upon a fourgame winning run and, suddenly, United look like the real promotion contenders everyone expected them to be.

Newcastle fans' faith, which had been tested following back-to-back defeats at the start of the season, has again been bolstered.

Belief is flowing through the veins of the United squad and it is also consuming Tyneside once more.

It was perhaps fitting, therefore, Newcastle saved their most rounded and complete performance of the campaign so far for the return of the man who led them to a 102-point haul and promotion out of the Championship seven years ago. Chris Hughton was warmly welcomed by both sets of fans - the home faithful chanted "There's only one Chris Hughton", quickly followed by the "Rafa Benitez" song, during the final 10 minutes of the game - and could only have been impressed by the performance of his former side.

"Efficient" was the word Hughton used repeatedly to describe it and efficient it most certainly was.

Impressive would be another suitable adjective; this may have been an unspectacular victory in many ways but it was also a consummate Championship performance.

If United can replicate this display in the majority of their remaining 41 second-tier games this season then they will almost certainly achieve their ultimate goal of promotion.

What made this victory all the more accomplished was the fact the Seagulls arrived at St James' Park as one of the more-rounded Championship sides, yet Newcastle defeated Brighton without their two frontline strikers.

Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dwight Gayle sat out the match due to the concussion protocol, meaning Ayoze Perez was utilised in an unfamiliar lone-striker role.

In order to offer the Spaniard greater company up top, Benitez switched his formation to more of a 4-1-4-1 than his favoured 4-2-3-1. Jonjo Shelvey pushed forward to join Mo Diame just behind the lone striker, while Isaac Hayden occupied the sole holding role in front of the back four.

For the first time all season, the Magpies - after a nervy opening 15 minutes - looked like a free-flowing attacking unit.

Led by the brains and guile of Matt Ritchie, United produced some slick and swift attacks which unsettled the visitors.

Despite Newcastle's more expansive attacking display, both their goals actually arrived from set-pieces.

The irony of which was Brighton themselves actually looked extremely dangerous from corners and freekicks; repeatedly, the Seagulls drew fouls from United out wide and floated in long, diagonal balls.

Hughton's Seagulls are reminiscent of Hughton's 2009/10 Newcastle vintage in that sense when Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan used to be the targets. …

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