Miles Starforth’s match analysis: Newcastle United 3 Vitesse Arnhem 2

Daryl Janmaat in action for Newcastle United against Vitesse Arnhem.
Daryl Janmaat in action for Newcastle United against Vitesse Arnhem.
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For 45 minutes, we saw what Rafa Benitez is trying to do at Newcastle United.

They attacked and defended as a team, as a unit.

Benitez’s side broke forward with pace and purpose on Saturday.

And for 45 minutes they broke up everything Vitesse Arnhem, beaten 3-2, attempted to do in their own half.

The front four of Dwight Gayle, Matt Ritchie, Ayoze Perez and Vurnon Anita were quick and incisive.

Gayle and Ritchie, in particular, were dangerous, and the pair, signed for £20million, look to be astute buys.

They enjoyed their first appearances at St James’s Park as United players.

Long after the final whistle, new-dad Ritchie left the stadium with his baby and family.

He was still smiling.

Ritchie – whose shot led to Newcastle’s first goal – is excited by the prospect of playing for Benitez and the club.

That’s something that can’t be said for some of the club’s other recent signings, notably Florian Thauvin.

Tyneside is just as excited as Ritchie.

First-half goalscorer Gayle said it didn’t seem like he’d joined a relegated club, such was the positivity he found when he walked through the doors after his move from Crystal Palace.

The only negatives from the Vitesse game were the two second-half goals the team conceded.

They were soft goals. Both game from set-pieces, which are so important in the Championship.

In fact, all four of the goals the club conceded were from set-pieces.

The last time United were in the division, then-manager Chris Hughton, now in charge of rivals Brighton and Hove Albion, relentlessly drilled his team on the training pitch in how he wanted set-pieces defended and attacked.

That hard work paid dividends over the course of the 2009-10 season.

But following the arrival of Grant Hanley from Blackburn Rovers, Benitez, without injured defender Chancel Mbemba against Vitesse, now has more height in his team.

Hanley hasn’t had much to say off the park since his £5.5million move from Ewood Park.

But the 24-year-old was a loud voice on the field on his first home appearance.

Hanley’s aerial ability will prove important to Newcastle over the coming nine months, and he’ll have to quickly get an understanding with defensive partners Jamaal Lascelles, who seems certain to captain the team this season having worn the skipper’s armband throughout pre-season.

Mbemba could start the season on the bench, even if he recovers from an ankle injury in time to travel to Fulham.

Back to that first half.

Perez and Anita had early shots saved by Eloy Room, and it looked only a matter of time before there would be a breakthrough on a bright afternoon.

The first goal came midway through the half from the leg of Vitesse’s Kelvin Leerdam, who diverted a ball from Ritchie past Room.

Gayle made it 2-0 with a close-range effort in the 36th minute, and Jack Colback headed a Perez cross into the net before the break.

Ritchie had a shot blocked early in the second half, but United weren’t the same.

Nathan scored from a corner in the 53rd minute, and Guram Kashia added another from a set-piece just past the hour-mark.

Benitez made eight changes during the second half – only unsettled pair Thauvin and Cheick Tiote stayed on the bench – and substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic forced a save after coming on.

Newcastle will have learnt from their defensive errors.

And Benitez – who could name the same starting XI at Craven Cottage – will have learnt from what he has seen in United’s five pre-season friendlies.

Most of it has been good. The team was unbeaten, but that counts for nothing.

Every minute – and every goal – will count from 7.45pm on Friday.

Newcastle will need substance and style.

Lascelles and Hanley will be just as important as Gayle and Ritchie to the club’s chances of returning to the Premier League at the first attempt.

The team looks united. And the city feels united.

Things seem different. And things are undoubtedly different under Benitez, who has breathed life into a club which for so long was lifeless.

So far, so good.

NEWCASTLE UNITED: Sels; Janmaat (Sterry, 74), Hanley (Gamez, 62), Lascelles, Dummett; Hayden (Saivet, 74), Colback (Shelvey, 62); Anita (Mitrovic, 74), Perez (Armstrong, 62), Ritchie (Aarons, 62); Gayle (Gouffran, 74). Subs not used: Darlow, Tiote, Thauvin.

VITESSE ARNHEM: Room, Leerdam (Lelieveld, 71), Kashia, Kruiswijk, Ota, Nakamba, Baker, Vako (Foor, 46), Rashica, Zhang (van Wolfswinkel, 62), Nathan (van Bergen, 71 Subs not used: Van Der Werff, Dauda, Osman, Kotte, Tornes, Houwen, Koryan, Faye.

Goals: Leerdam (og) 22 Gayle 36, Colback 41, Nathan 53, Kashia 61

Referee: Sebastien Stockbridge (Durham)