4 things we learnt from Newcastle's first visit to Burton

Newcastle United will be No 1 on Christmas Day after this afternoon's 2-1 win over Burton Albion.

Saturday, 17th December 2016, 6:52 pm
Updated Sunday, 18th December 2016, 12:14 pm
Mohamed Diame

Goals from Dwight Gayle and Mohamed Diame gave Rafa Benitez's side a hard-fought Championship victory which keeps the club a point ahead of Brighton and Hove Albion, who came from behind to win at Birmingham City.

But what did we learn from the club's first visit to the Pirelli Stadium?

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Aleksandar Mitrovic will have to be VERY patient

Speaking about Aleksandar Mitrovic on the eve of the game, Rafa Benitez said the striker was "quite happy" at St James's Park, despite a lack of starts.

However, Mitrovic, said to be a January target for Crystal Palace and West Ham United, cut a forlorn figure as he warmed up in vain at the Pirelli Stadium with Ayoze Perez and Chancel Mbemba. Only Yoan Gouffran made it off the bench.

Perez was brought on ahead of Mitrovic at the DW Stadium three days earlier, where he was also an unused substitute.

Benitez – who talked highly of Daryl Murphy before the Burton game – will undoubtedly need Mitrovic in the second half of the campaign, but it seems it'll take an injury, or suspension, for him to get a start.

Mohamed Diame will bring goals to Newcastle

After a slow start to the season, Mohamed Diame's picked up the pace.

The midfielder, signed from Hull City in the summer, has scored three goals from his last four starts.

Diame wasn't particularly dominant against Burton on an afternoon when the home side saw much of the ball, but his quality in the final third of the pitch made all the difference.

The ease with which he rolled his marker and tucked the ball past goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin was startling.

The 29-year-old's run of form is timely, though he will leave for the African Cup of Nations next month. United can only hope that the Senegal international returns from Gabon unscathed.

United can roll their sleeves up when they have to

It wasn't an afternoon for pretty football. Yes, there were moments of quality from Newcastle – the two goals stood out – but this victory owed as much to scrapping as sumptuous football.

Newcastle had to scrap and fight for everything at the Pirelli Stadium.

And a clearance from Paul Dummett shortly before Mohamed Diame scored United's winner typified the attitude of the team when they had their backs to the wall.

Not surprisingly, Rafa Benitez praised the "teamwork and character" of his team after the match in the stadium's cramped media room.

Newcastle will need those two qualities in abundance in the second half of the campaign.

The Championship's looking more and more like a two-horse race

Nigel Clough said Newcastle and Brighton and Hove Albion were the Championship's two "outstanding" teams after the match.

It's hard to argue with that.

Brighton came from behind to beat Birmingham City 2-1 thanks to an injury-time goal from Glenn Murray at St Andrew's after United's game.

Other teams have come and gone in the first half of the campaign, but Newcastle and Brighton have been consistent.

And it's hard to see any side genuinely challenging them for automatic promotion between now and May.