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Newcastle United defeated struggling Crystal Palace 1-0 at the weekend, in a result that perhaps did not match the performance.
The South London club, buoyed by their first win of the season against champions Chelsea in their previous game, looked the livelier team and seemed more likely to score for the large parts at St James’ Park.
They recorded 10 attempts to United’s seven, however did not muster a single shot on target, which proved the determining factor on a windy afternoon in the North-East.
Resilience pays off
The deadlock was broken on 86 minutes, when substitute Mikel Merino headed home from Matt Ritchie’s left-wing corner.
A slightly fortuitous goal as Palace Midfielder James McArthur headed against Merino, causing the ball to enter the goal at the Leazes end to send the sold-out St James’ crowd into raptures.
Newcastle did not care about the nature of the goal, and it was their resilience and patience that paid off.
Soaking up the pressure
Manager Rafa Benitez was aware of Palace’s pace in the final third, with Wilfried Zaha and former Magpies winger Andros Townsend operating as forwards.
Rafa was also aware of the momentum Palace had, which was why the Spaniard was happy to allow his team to soak up the pressure and then hit the Eagles when necessary, just as United did from a set-piece towards the end of the match.
As risky as this is, it highlights United’s willingness to win ‘ugly’ and gain three points from whatever means necessary.
This has worked in previous matches this season, most notably against Swansea, whereby the same gameplan was executed and also resulted in three points in the exact same manner; captain Jamaal Lascelles heading in from a Ritchie corner near the end.
However this can backfire when Newcastle sit back and do not take their chances, which losses away at Huddersfield and Brighton showed, although it has worked more often than not for the Toon this season.
As the Palace game wore on, United gradually came into it more and there was a determination about the team to not only avoid defeat but to win.
It is this winning mentality that Rafa has instilled into his players that will cause United to achieve their objectives this season.
Unlike the Newcastle squads of previous seasons, this current crop of players does the name justice and is actually united. The players fight for themselves, each other and the fans, with no mercenaries present, ensuring team chemistry necessary to be successful.
Victories this season over the likes of Crystal Palace, Swansea, Stoke and West Ham are crucial. By taking maximum points off teams who will be in and around Newcastle in the table, this will heighten their position in the League and it is essential that United continue to come out on top against such opponents.
In Rafa we trust
Newcastle currently sit in a lofty seventh place, while the next set of fixtures also looks promising; albeit on paper.
Matches against Burnley, Bournemouth and West Brom are all to come in the next month. If United can come through from these matches unscathed then they are well set for a challenging winter.
In Rafa we trust.
Written by Dawud Arshad
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