Boring, boring Newcastle. Fancy that?
When were Newcastle United last known for their defensive resilience.
And when could the club last take a lead – and defend it?
Also, when were set-pieces – Yoan Gouffran took the lead from a corner – last a strength, and not a weakness?
Rafa Benitez’s side have gone 405 minutes in all competitions without conceding a goal.
And Saturday’s 2-0 win over Derby County underlined the progress in the Championship on the field under Benitez.
Newcastle, having won their last four league games, are starting to look like a team.
The result also moved the club up to second place in the division, four points behind Huddersfield Town.
Benitez’s players were organising, encouraging and cajoling each other at the iPro Stadium.
They defended together, and as a unit. They were disciplined, dogged and determined. They knew their jobs, and they did them.
Admittedly, United didn’t create much. But they didn’t have to. It was a classic away performance, and there have been precious few of those in recent seasons.
“For us, the most important thing is to win,” said Benitez, who had seen him side see of an early onslaught from Nigel Pearson’s side.
“We had to work very hard in defence, but at the same time try to keep the ball, move the ball and create something in attack.
“In the end, it was a perfect result, but a tough game.”
Newcastle were clinical with the chances that came their way, and for all Derby’s pressure, goalkeeper Matz Sels was largely untroubled, though he had to beat away a fierce second-half shot from Craig Bryson.
During the second half, the stadium was all but silent but for the club’s 3,200-strong travelling following in one corner.
The late introduction of DeAndre Yedlin energised United late in the game.
Yedlin, brought on for a flagging Gouffran, showed his pace with a series of runs up the right flank.
And the former Sunderland defender, signed from Tottenham Hotspur late last month, bundled the ball home under pressure from a defender after fellow substitute Ayoze Perez cleverly directed a ball from Jonjo Shelvey into his path. Game over.
What’s more, they did it without Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was an unused substitute.
Mitrovic is yet to play a minute’s football in the Championship because of a four-game suspension and concussion.
But the striker’s time will come. It’s a long season, and he will be needed.
New signings Daryl Murphy and Christian Atsu didn’t even make the bench.
They will get their chance too. Benitez, we’ve seen, is more than willing to change a winning team, and it’s doubtful he’ll name the same starting XI two games in a row all season.
Midfielder Isaac Hayden – who has impressed since his summer move from Arsenal – was surprisingly left out of his team at the iPro Stadium, where United were beaten 3-0 in the Championship in 2009-10.
Hayden will most likely return to the team against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road tomorrow night.
Beyond that, who knows? Benitez has strength in depth.
Hayden wasn’t dropped by Benitez, who is certain to make changes for the QPR game.
Gouffran could well keep his place, having, remarkably, has started the last four games.
The forward – who scored with a stunning back post volley from a 20th-minute Shelvey corner – was given an ovation when he left the field late in the game.
Fancy that? Gouffran has played his way into Benitez’s plans with his versatility and workrate.
And his superb goal showed he can also make a contribution up front.
Gouffran’s story also tells you something about the resourcefulness of Benitez, who knew he was short of a winger a few weeks ago.
He turned to Gouffran, a player who hardly featured under Steve McClaren last season and had been long looking for a way out of the club.
Gouffran was widely expected to leave this summer.
The 30-year-old, however, has a good contract at St James’s Park, and no clubs were willing to take on his wage.
So he stayed, and Gouffran could yet play a significant role this season, though Atsu has given him another option on the wing.
Benitez has many options.
The Championship is a long, 46-game season. There’ll be few, if any, players who aren’t called upon.
If United are to win promotion, it’ll be a truly collective effort.