Miles Starforth's match analysis: Barnsley 0 Newcastle United 2
They played 'Don't Stop Believin'' at Oakwell before the game.
It was a throwback to Newcastle United’s last season in the Championship, when the song was often heard up and down the country as the club fought to get out of the division.
Rafa Benitez’s players left Barnsley after last night’s 2-0 win full of belief.
They won’t stop believing this season. And nor will the club’s supporters.
There were 5,501 fans in the away end at Oakwell.
And were thousands more back at St James’s Park watching it live in the stadium’s bars.
They saw a forgettable first half, but it turned out to be another memorable night.
Dwight Gayle set his sights on 20 goals before a ball was kicked this season. It looked to be an ambitious target, but he’s now more than halfway there with just 13 games played. Remarkable.
It turned out a remarkable night, though the first 45 minutes were unremarkable.
United manager Benitez made three changes for the game. He recalled Matt Ritchie, Mohamed Diame and Isaac Hayden to his starting XI at Oakwell.
Christian Atsu, Ayoze Perez and Jack Colback dropped down to the bench.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, again, was among the substitutes.
Newcastle had been held to a 2-2 draw on their last visit in December 2009.
The game itself started slowly, though the place quickened whenever Ritchie – who had missed the weekend’s 3-1 win over Brentford through sickness – took the ball.
The first chance of the game fell to Barnley’s Conor Hourihane, who shot wide in front of United’s fans in the North Stand in the 13th minute.
Benitez had been wary of the home side’s “high-tempo” game, and Paul Heckingbottom’s committed team were pacy and purposeful when they did win the ball.
Newcastle’s first effort came in the 23rd minute. And it came from Gayle.
Ritchie broke down the right and crossed to the far post, where Gayle flicked the ball over the bar.
Gayle, otherwise, had a quiet half.
Ritchie himself had a fierce shot blocked a minute later after a Jonjo shelvey free-kick was worked to him.
James Bree shot wide at the other end of the pitch after an effort from a set-piece was blocked.
United’s following raised their decibels in response to Bree’s shot, but Benitez’s side couldn’t raise their game. In particular Diame, playing the No 10 role behind Gayle, was wasteful with possession before the break.
Diame also headed a Ritchie corner wide before the break, and the half ended goalless.
There had been chants of “Mitro, Mitro, Mitro” as Aleksandar Mitrovic had warmed up before the break, but Benitez sent out an unchanged team for the second half.
And the breakthrough wasn’t long in coming.
Ritchie swung in a 49th-minbute corner and Ciaran Clark appealed for a penalty after going down in the box.
Referee Paul Tierney waved play on, and the ball rolled to Gayle, who shot into the roof of the net at the far post.
Gayle – who had netted twice against Brentford – was mobbed by his team-mates in front of Newcastle’s jubilant fans.
Barnsley had to chase the game after Gayle’s goal, and Diame, sluggish before the break, started to find his stride as spaces opened up in front of him.
The game swung from end to end as Mitrovic continued to warm up. His name was again chanted by fans, but yet again he wouldn’t make it on to the pitch.
It got better for United in the 68th minute.
Ritchie played the ball forward from the halfway and Gayle poked the ball past Davies. Cue more wild celebrations on and off the pitch. Mitrovic ran to him in with the celebrations in front of the advertising hoardings.
If he was upset at not getting on to the field, he didn’t show it.
News had filtered through seconds before goal of a Fulham equaliser against Norwich City.
And chants of “we are top of the league” intensified in the wake of Gayle’s strike.
The game was won, and it was just as case of whether Norwich could take all three points at Craven Cottage. They couldn’t. The ended 2-2, and United ended the night on top of the league.
It won’t be easy to stay there.
This season has already shown how tough the division is to navigate.
But Newcastle look equipped for everything that the Championship can throw at them between now and the end of the season.
They’re scoring goals, creating chances and keeping clean sheets.
The belief is back.
This is Newcastle. And they are united.