Miles Starforth's match analysis: Stoke City 0 Newcastle United 1
There was a club seemingly in crisis at the final whistle '“ and, for once, it wasn't Newcastle United.
There were “Hughes out” chants at the bet365 Stadium after yesterday’s 1-0 win over Stoke City.
As home fans vented their anger towards under-pressure Mark Hughes, Newcastle’s fans applauded Rafa Benitez, his counterpart, and his players as they headed for the tunnel.
United did what they had to do on a wet and cold Monday afternoon in Stoke and deservedly took all three points.
Ayoze Perez, played up front by Benitez, scored the goal, but this was a team effort.
There were eye-catching performances all over the pitch, starting at the back with goalkeeper Karl Darlow, who made four superb saves.
Also impressive was winger Jacob Murphy, who supplied the cross for Perez’s goal.
The defence, led by Jamaal Lascelles, also deserves credit.
Perez’s close-range strike gave Newcastle their first win at the stadium in more than six years.
United, 14th in the Premier League, have now taken seven points from their last four games.
There’s a long, long way to go, but it’s a start.
Benitez made five changes at the bet365 Stadium. United’s manager fielded Perez and Christian Atsu up front and dropped Dwight Gayle and Joselu – who had started Saturday’s goalless draw against Brighton and Hove Albion – to the bench.
Benitez’s name was chanted loudly before kick-off time by the club’s 3,168-strong travelling support.
Early on New Year’s Day, coach after coach had left Tyneside bound for the Potteries. Fans saw a dominant first-half performance from Newcastle, who created a series of chances but just couldn’t put the ball in the net.
Atsu, in particular, was a danger for United in the first 15 minutes. The winger shot wide in the 10th minute after a headed clearance from Erik Pieters dropped for him, and he forced a save from Jack Butland four minutes later after latching on to a pull-back from DeAndre Yedlin.
Darlow did well to turn a long-range free-kick from Charlie Adam round his post.
The best chance of the half fell to Ciaran Clark. The defender somehow put the ball over the bar after Perez flicked a Matt Ritchie corner to him at the far post.
It had been an unusually mild winter’s day when the game kicked off, but it was wet – and cold – by the break.
And Newcastle went into the half-time interval knowing they should have made least one of their chances count.
Thanks to Darlow, Choupo-Moting couldn’t make his second-half chance count. The goalkeeper, at full stretch, just got to a curled shot from the forward, who gave Yedlin a difficult afternoon.
Jonjo Shelvey put a 67th-minute free-kick wide as the rain came down at the stadium, and referee Chris Kavanagh waved away a strong penalty appeal from Gayle, who was floored by Kurt Zouma as he tried to run on to a Murphy ball.
Fortunately, Perez did get on the end of a low right-wing cross from Murphy in the 73rd minute. Perez beat Butland from six yards. The strike was Perez’s 27th for the club. It could prove to be one of his most important.
There was bedlam in the away end by Butland’s goal.
Stoke fought back, but United held out to claim an important win.
Newcastle were united – on and off the pitch – and they got their rewards. It’s a happy new year – so far.