Miles Starforth’s match analysis: Preston North End 1 Newcastle United 1

Newcastle United's Aleksandar Mitrovic (second left) celebrates scoring his side's first goal.
Newcastle United's Aleksandar Mitrovic (second left) celebrates scoring his side's first goal.

It was a memorable day for Jacob Murphy.

But little else from this 1-1 draw will linger in the memory bar Aleksandar Mitrovic’s latest goal against Preston North End.

And the club’s visit to Deepdale on Saturday is best forgotten.

The home side were ahead of Newcastle United in their pre-season preparations given the Championship’s early start – and it showed.

They were sharper, and got stronger as the game wore on.

Newcastle had their moments – Mitrovic’s first pre-season goal being one of them – and new signings Murphy and Javier Manquillo made their first appearances for the club.

For boyhood fan Murphy, it was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream.

Murphy – who had donned the No 7 squad number worn by Achraf Lazaar last season – was still smiling long after the final whistle.

“It was great to get on,” said the winger. It’s been a good build-up week.

“To pull on the jersey is a great feeling.”

Murphy, signed from Norwich City in a £12million deal last week, was well-received by fans.

So too was Manquillo, who spent much of last season on Sunderland’s bench.

However, Murphy – who had only just reported back to Norwich for pre-season when the call came from Benitez given his involvement with England’s Under-21s this summer – didn’t get into his stride at Deepdale, where United were backed by more than 2,000 supporters.

Among them were the 23-year-old’s proud Geordie parents.

Murphy, a second-half substitute, wasn’t able to get into his stride.

The England Under-21 international switched flanks but didn’t have much more joy on the left.

It’s very, very early days for Murphy, who was brought to the club for his pace.

Rolando Aarons, so impressive in Newcastle’s opening pre-season fixture against Heart of Midlothian eight days earlier, hadn’t fared any better before the break.

United, driven forward by stand-in captain Jonjo Shelvey, had started well enough. Siem de Jong tested Chris Maxwell with a decent shot.

Mitrovic – who had scored four goals against Preston last season – opened the scoring soon afterwards.

Paul Dummett got to a loose ball first to fire a shot at Maxwell, who parried the ball to Mitrovic at the far post.

The striker – who had netted twice on his previous visit to the stadium – took his opportunity.

Mitrovic also had a shot stopped on the line by Marnick Vermijl before Preston wrestled the initiative back from United.

Tom Barkhuizen levelled later in the half and Benitez made eight changes at the break.

Karl Darlow, left out of the squad for Tynecastle, made his first appearance of the campaign, but, bizarrely, he made way for a third goalkeeper – Freddie Woodman – with 20 minutes left on the clock.

Longstanding No 1 Tim Krul, again, was not involved.

Preston looked more likely to get a second goal, but Newcastle saw the game out.

Manquillo got a brief run-out late in the game, and the defender, signed from Eibar on Friday, stayed on the pitch after the final whistle to do some extra fitness work.

And that’s the thing. This game, the club’s second friendly, was as much about fitness as anything else.

Preston proved to be able opponents. And that’s what Benitez had wanted. He wanted a tough game – and his team got one. Alex Neil has inherited a competitive team from Simon Grayson.

United had had a tough week of double sessions on the field in Ireland before the fixture.

Their flight back from Dublin on Friday was also delayed.

“It was not the best,” conceded Benitez.

“The fitness is important at this stage, and they were sharper than us.”

Game by game, Newcastle will get sharper.

But there’s as much work to be done off the field as on it between now and the start of the season.

Newcastle need to buy AND sell players over the coming weeks.

Benitez acknowledged that he had “too many players” after the Preston game.

But he doesn’t have enough Premier League players.