Miles Starforth's match analysis: Huddersfield Town 0 Newcastle United 1
Newcastle United's players didn't have a Christmas party '“ but the club's fans had a celebration of their own.
They were still celebrating on Saturday long after the final whistle at the John Smith’s Stadium.
The players had been due to travel to London for a festive night out after the game, but they’d cancelled their plans given the club’s position near the foot of the table.
However, the Premier League table looked a little better that evening after a goal from Salomon Rondon gave Rafa Benitez’s side a hard-fought 1-0 win.
Newcastle are in 14th place, and four points above the relegation zone, ahead of Saturday’s home game against Fulham, who are propping up the division.
United still need around 20 more points from their remaining 21 games – Benitez feels 36 points will be enough to stay up – but this result felt significant.
The team had needed a result – and they’d got one.
Benitez had known that Huddersfield would come at his team.
The plan had been to break their press and move the ball quickly into the spaces they’d invariably leave at the back.
“We knew they would be on front foot, pushing,” said Benitez.
“They would be high and leave so much space, and we need to exploit that.”
That was the plan, but things didn’t really go to plan for 45 minutes amid a downpour at a freezing John Smith’s Stadium.
Time and again they lost the ball, and it kept coming back at them.
Kenedy was wasteful whenever he got the ball, and Rondon was isolated up front.
It wasn’t much of a spectacle for the travelling fans.
United had an early let-off when Chris Lowe volleyed wide from a right-wing Alex Pritchard cross.
And goalkeeper Martin Dubravka also did well to tip over a 30-yard free-kick from Philip Billing in the 20th minute.
Newcastle’s best chances fell to Fabian Schar. The defender, recalled to the starting XI, had latched on to a floated ball into the box from Ki Sung-yueng. Jonas Lossl did well to save his prodded effort.
Schar also panicked Lossl with a free-kick struck from just inside Huddersfield’s half.
United captain Jamaal Lascelles had been fortunate to stay on the field between Schar’s two efforts after clumsily challenging Laurent Depoitre on the touchline.
Whatever Benitez said at the break worked. United were better, much better, in the second half.
They had more control of the ball and Huddersfield found chances harder to come by on the sodden pitch.
And David Wagner’s team never really looked like equalising once Rondon put the visitors ahead in the 55th minute.
Dubravka started the move. He quick broke Huddersfield’s press with a pass to Lascelles, who found Schar.
And Schar’s long pass up the pitch was chested down by Ayoze Perez, who cleverly played it inside to Javier Manquillo, recalled to the team with DeAndre Yedlin suspended.
Manquillo, in exactly the kind of space Benitez had been talking about, rolled the ball to the unmarked Rondon, who side-footed the ball past Lossl.
It was a few seconds of brilliance on a drab, damp afternoon.
Newcastle doggedly saw out the game, and the players headed back up a snowy A1 on the team coach.
They would have been home in time to watch the highlights of game on Match of the Day.
They hadn’t had a party, but if the team can replicate the best of this performance away from home – and start winning at St James’s Park – they will surely have one later in the season.