ANALYSIS: four key talking points from Newcastle United's victory over Derby County

It's fair to say it's been an interesting week at Newcastle United.
Aleksandar Mitrovic.Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Aleksandar Mitrovic.

We had all of the trials and tribulations of transfer deadline day, and the resulting fall-out bringing Rafa Benitez's Magpies future into doubt. Then we had the last gasp home slip against QPR.

But after all of that United stood up and were counted against Derby County, battling to a 1-0 St James' Park victory, courtesy of Matt Ritchie's 27th minute deflected strike. It was a result which saw them return to the top of the Championship table, and all of a sudden things feel a bit more rosy on Tyneside.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Although the result was positive, the performance against Steve McClaren's Rams was far from flawless.

Here we take a look at FOUR talking points, some positive, some negative, to arise from the encounter.

Is Aleksandar Mitrovic the best alternative to Dwight Gayle?

He is a fan favourite, of that there is no doubt.

But is Mitrovic a legitimate alternative to lead United's line in the absence of top-scorer Gayle?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

What he did bring yesterday was an ability to hold the ball up. On numerous occasions the Serbian brought others into play with some chests down and clever flicks.

In the first-half he was much improved from the player who shouldered a lot of the blame for the Magpies' FA Cup exit at Oxford United.

But as had been the case down at the Kassam Stadium, Mitro's finishing in the second period let him down. Eight yards from goal he screwed wide what looked a certain goal.

At times his workrate and reaction to losing the ball was clearly frustrating Rafa Benitez on the touchline.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This is something which will seriously have to change if he is to become a player who has a long-term future at United.

Daryl Murphy could be thrown in next week at Wolves, if Gayle is not quite ready to return.

Was this Paul Dummett's best game for United this season?

One of the first players to get criticism is Dummett.

Solid or not he gets stick from the terraces, suffering the same 'local boy' fate as Steven Taylor, Jack Colback and Shola Ameobi.

The fans don't doubt his effort. What they do doubt is his ability.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But one thing massively in the defender's favour is the fact a manager of the calibre of Benitez clearly thinks he is good enough. He is one of the first names on the Spaniard's teamsheet.

For me, Saturday was one of Dummett's best in a long while. He was solid in defence and broke forward with purpose, particularly in the second period.

Is Grant Hanley worth a run in the starting XI?

It is no easy decision to leave a skipper out for any manager.

A groin problem meant Jamaal Lascelles had to sit out the weekend, but moving forward it will be interesting to see if Benitez keeps faith with Hanley.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Scotland international was solid, won every battle and even had the awareness to sweep up after a mistake by Darlow late on.

Hanley has had difficult times since his summer switch to United, but he did himself no harm with a strong, physical show against the Rams.

Is Karl Darlow feeling the heat?

I want to get this clear straight off the bat - the former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper has been outstanding for United this season.

One of the stand out players since coming in for Matz Sels earlier in the campaign.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But in the last couple Darlow has made errors. He dropped a ball yesterday that, but for the intervention of Hanley, would have resulted in an undeserved Derby equaliser.

On Tuesday he, fairly or unfairly, took some stick for the own goal in the closing stages of the QPR draw.

Could it be that Darlow is feeling the heat, with three Newcastle goalkeepers now vying for the place between the sticks?

Competition is no bad thing. And Benitez has three, with the return of Rob Elliot to the bench yesterday, decent keepers to choose from.