It was an unhappy return to St James’ Park for Derby boss Steve McClaren on Saturday, after a crucial win for the hosts, here are three things we learned…
1. The fans are in no doubt who they believe is the man to take Newcastle forward
The atmosphere at St James’ Park this season has, admittedly, been flat and dejected at times, maybe because the home team they are supporting have been favourites every game and often come out comfortable winners but after Rafa Benitez’ press conference on Friday calling for togetherness with question marks over his future beckoning, the Toon fans were in fine voice for the duration of the match in support of their manager on Saturday. Benitez’s name echoed around the ground for the vast majority of the game, which reinforced the respect the Spaniard has earned on Tyneside. It is extremely obvious that Newcastle could do no better than Rafa and the fans made sure the people upstairs on the board haven’t forgotten that.
2. Newcastle desperately miss Dwight Gayle
Goals haven’t exactly been hard to come by since Gayle got injured in the win at Brentford in January but Newcastle have missed plenty of chances too. Daryl Murphy has been in good form but found himself substituted in the QPR game and benched on Saturday. On Saturday, Mitrovic started up front and missed a great chance in the second half to make it 2-0 and somewhat secure the three points. The Serbian is clearly lacking confidence and match fitness after a disappointing season, unable to repeat his goal-scoring form under Benitez in the Premier League. The manager will be anxiously sweating on Gayle’s fitness ahead of Saturday’s trip to Wolves with the hope the ex-Crystal Palace man can add to his tally of 20 league goals so far.
3. Matt Ritchie is turning into the player we were promised
The ex-Bournemouth winger has split opinion since his summer arrival for £12 million. At times he has looked like the best attacker in the Championship but at other times he has totally disappeared in games. However, in more positive news for the Magpies, the Scot was brilliant on Saturday. Albeit his first half winner was a scruffy one, he ran the show going forward as well as tracking back defensively. His pace and range of passing could be essential in Newcastle’s run-in at the end of the season. Ritchie was the best of a bad bunch against QPR but his performance against Derby on Saturday showed his consistency is most certainly getting there, with five goals already since the turn of Christmas.
On Saturday, Benitez and his men travel to Molineux to play Wolves for a Sky 5:30pm kick-off – backed by a 4,200 travelling black and white army.
Feature Image Credit – Martin Le Roy
By Alex Storey