Miles Starforth's match analysis: Newcastle United 3 Ipswich Town 0
One by one, Mick McCarthy shook them by the hand.
McCarthy had waited, and waited, to shake the hand of every Newcastle United player after the game.
It was a long wait for Ipswich Town’s manager. And it was a classy touch on an afternoon when the name of the late Sir Bobby Robson – who had managed both clubs with distinction – was chanted by supporters.
A handful had taken their time applauding those fans left inside St James’s Park, which had been all but sold out for the Championship fixture.
McCarthy’s team had been well beaten. And he knew it.
“We were beaten by the better team, beaten by the champions,” said McCarthy. “If I see a better team than that this year, I’ll be surprised.”
Ipswich – who went behind in the first minute – had done well to stay in the game until the 73rd minute, when Ayoze Perez scored his second goal of the game.
They’d been dogged and determined out of possession.
But they’d been no match for Newcastle with the ball.
A few hours after Newcastle’s 3-0, Barnsley head coach Paul Heckingbottom spoke on TV about Rafa Benitez’s side, who had won 2-0 at Oakwell four days earlier.
“We threw absolutely everything at them,” said Heckingbottom. “There was nothing.
“That’s why they’ll be right up there. Anyone finishing above Newcastle will be in the Premier League next season.”
It’s hard to argue with the assessment of either McCarthy or Heckingbottom
Of course, Benitez, always reluctant to look beyond the next game, was much more guarded in his post-match comments.
But Heckingbottom and McCarthy, between them, had said what most Championship managers will be thinking.
United have nothing to fear in this division except complacency.
They know if they can match their opponents’ physicality and intensity, then they have the quality in the final third of the pitch to win games.
And so it proved against Ipswich. And Barnsley. And Brentford. And so it goes on.
In the space of a few short months, Benitez has transformed a team which had performed so fitfully for much of last season.
Newcastle quickly set about Ipswich.
Benitez had decided to go on the attack with the selection of Perez and DeAndre Yedlin, preferred to Vurnon Anita at right-back.
It took them just 59 seconds to get off the mark.
Paul Dummett’s left-wing cross was flicked on by Yoan Gouffran to Perez at the far post, and the forward beat Bartosz Bialkowski with a neat finish.
Ipswich had one chance – former United striker Leon Best struck the crossbar after taking a corner down with his chest and turned in the box – while Newcastle had opportunity after opportunity in the first half.
They should also have had a penalty when Bialkowski clumsily brought down Dwight Gayle in the box.
Yet the all-important second goal proved elusive.
And United looked to be running out of ideas midway through the second half.
Benitez was readying Christian Atsu to come on when Ritchie broke down the right for the umpteenth time and pulled the ball back for Perez in the 73rd minute.
Perez did the rest, and six minutes later he returned the favour for Ritchie, who flicked the ball past Bialkowski with the outside of his left foot.
The game seemingly been gone in 60 seconds for Ipswich.
But things are rarely that straightforward in the Championship.
Newcastle, however, had enough about them to probe and prod their visitors until they got the breakthrough they needed.
There are still 32 games left. That’s another 96 points to play for this season.
This is a long, long way from being over, but United have set the standard in the division this season, and they now have to maintain that standard in those 32 games.
Crucially, they have a squad which should be able to cope with the inevitable injuries and suspensions that hit every team over the Christmas and New Year period.
Newcastle, having made a £30million-plus profit on transfers in the summer, also have a few quid in the bank should they need to spend it in January.
But looking at the squad, there’s not much wrong with it. For now.
Heckingbottom had a bit more to say about Newcastle.
“They’ve got quality all over the team, whether that’s attacking areas, wide players, central midfield players (and the) centre-backs are chipping in goals,” he said.
“They’re just a really well organised side with strength, power and goal threat from all over the pitch.”
It’s that combination of strength, power and ability that marks United out this season.
And if any team can finish above Newcastle this season, they will have earnt a place in the Premier League.