Miguel Almiron and Newcastle United will only get better under Rafa Benitez
Now that’s what you call a debut.
Rafa Benitez was desperate to sign Miguel Almiron last month – and everyone at St James’s Park on Saturday saw why.
Almiron did everything but score in the club’s 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town.
But that didn’t matter, as those playing alongside him – Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez – did find the net.
Benitez went on the attack against Huddersfield with a 3-4-3 formation – and there was only going to be one winner when Tommy Smith got himself sent off for a reckless lunge at Almiron.
Almiron, fortunately, was able to carry on.
The 24-year-old – who was chopped down by Joao Moutinho on his debut at Molineux earlier this month – can expect more rough treatment between now and the end of the season.
And Newcastle fans can expect more from Almiron, who gave the visitors a rough time.
Almiron, fielded up front with Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez, was welcomed on to the pitch by a Wor Flags banner in the Gallowgate end of the stadium, in Spanish, which was translated as “we’re counting on you”.
The midfielder had last started a game in early December, but Benitez felt he was ready. And he was.
The move of the game came in the 13th minute when United quickly turned defence into attack with some one-touch football. The last pass came from Isaac Hayden, who set away Almiron.
Almiron raced towards the advancing Jonas Lossl and chipped the goalkeeper. The ball, agonisingly, struck the post. Rondon hit the same upright with a follow-up effort.
“I’ve seen him do that before on some clips, so I knew he could do it,” said Benitez.
“I’ve not seen a replay, and to be fair, I’d like to see him do something even better, but it was something that no-one was expecting.
“The crowd enjoy a player with that kind of energy and movement, and you could see he was trying to do things and he did well right from the start.”
The crowd, which has witnessed some dreadful afternoon’s at St James’s Park, did enjoy it.
Newcastle, playing with pace and purpose, should have led by two or three goals by the break.
The breakthrough came less than a minute into the second half, when Rondon swept the ball home from eight yards following move down the right.
Perez netted a second six minutes later from close range after a deep cross from Almiron was worked to him by Rondon and DeAndre Yedlin.
Almiron, understandably, got the headlines yesterday, but there were impressive performances all over the pitch.
Sean Longstaff and Isaac Hayden, again, were superb in midfield.
Yes, United were playing against the league’s worst team. And yes, for most of the game they were playing against 10 men.
But they needed a win – and they got one. And Newcastle can take a lot of confidence into tomorrow night’s home game against Burnley.
The win took the club up to 28 points with 11 games left to play. United could be just three victories away from Premier League safety.
“I think maybe that would be enough, depending on other teams,” said manager Benitez. “Initially, it was 40 points, but I think about 37 or 38 now will be fine.”
With Almiron, Newcastle could be more than just fine.