Miles Starforth’s match analysis: Southend United 0 Newcastle United 2

Yoan Gouffran
Yoan Gouffran

The player known as “Big Vurn” could have a big impact in the Championship.

This summer the focus has been on Newcastle United’s six signings.

But can Vurnon Anita have as significant an impact in the Championship as any of the club’s buys?

The 27-year-old has played in defence and midfield this pre-season.

And he has looked comfortable in every position he has been fielded by Rafa Benitez.

A goal from Anita set up last night’s 2-0 friendly win over Southend United at a humid Roots Hall.

Yoan Gouffran also scored in a game which saw Grant Hanley, signed from Blackburn Rovers last week, make his first appearance for the club.

Newcastle were physically tested by a direct Southend side, who attempted to play counter-attacking football.

And they stood up to that threat, which was as pleasing for United manager Benitez as the two goals and some of the football they played against Phil Brown’s League One side.

Benitez, without the injured Matt Ritchie and suspended Jesus Gamez, named a near-full strength team, which, barring a late signing, won’t be radically different to that which takes on Fulham in the Championship opener a week on Friday.

Matz Sels was on the bench, and Benitez has a decision to make about his goalkeeper for the game at Craven Cottage.

Karl Darlow underlined his ability with a superb last-minute reaction save to deny Southend’s David Mooney.

Cheick Tiote, set to join Al Jazira Club in Abu Dhabi, was not at Roots Hall for the Magpies’ penultimate warm-up game.

Benitez deliberately chose low-key friendlies in the belief that they would best prepare his side for the Championship, and they had an early scare at the 10,000-capacity home of Southend.

Chancel Mbemba looped a header from a John White cross over Darlow, but, fortunately for the visitors, the ball flew just wide of the United goal.

At the other end of the pitch, Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey, playing as one of two holding midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 formation, had a half-volley tipped over by Mark Oxley in the 12th minute.

Shelvey made astute use of the ball alongside Chelmsford-born Isaac Hayden, who started his career at Southend before moving to Arsenal.

United competed well against midfield against a home team featuring two trialists.

Dwight Gayle – who played in the youth leagues around Southend growing up – shot narrowly wide at the near post after Daryl Janmaat crossed from the right.

Rolando Aarons blocked a shot from Jack Bridge just past the half-hour mark.

South Shields-born Southend boss Brown – who chose not to watch the match from the dugout ahead of an impending touchline ban – had predicated that Newcastle would dominate possession, and they had most of the ball in the first half.

But they couldn’t make their chances count, and Perez – who netted twice against Lokeren – shot wide late in the half after a fine run forward.

The half ended goalless, and Benitez, tellingly, sent out an unchanged side for the second half.

United took the lead two minutes into the new half.

Anita, playing on the right side of midfield, intercepted a loose ball 20 yards from goal and lashed a fierce shot into the far corner of the net.

Newcastle will need goals from all positions this season, and versatile Anita – who has been shuffled round the pitch in pre-season – could just prove to be an important player in the Championship.

The 27-year-old, signed four years ago from Ajax, has never been an regular starter for the club, but that could change in English football’s second tier.

Anita and his team-mates weren’t bullied or intimidated by a competitive Southend team.

Benitez made changes just past the hour mark. Hanley was followed on to the pitch by Jamie Sterry, Jack Colback, Yoan Gouffran and Adam Armstrong.

Shelvey had a shot saved by Oxley before making way for Henri Saivet, and Aleksandar Mitrovic replaced Perez in the 73rd minute.

Substitute Gouffran added a second goal five minutes later, and United kept another clean sheet thanks to a late save from Darlow, who stopped a shot from Mooney.

Darlow, however, had otherwise had a quiet evening.

The team in front of him had kept the ball well and defended well against a team intent on getting the ball forward quickly and breaking in numbers.

It was another test for Benitez’s new-look Newcastle.

And they came through it.

NEWCASTLE UNITED: Darlow; Janmaat (Sterry, 63), Mbemba (Hanley, 63), Lascelles, Dummett; Hayden (Colback, 63), Shelvey (Saivet, 73); Anita (Thauvin, 78), Perez (Mitrovic, 73), Aarons (Gouffran, 63); Gayle (Armstrong, 63). Sub not used: Sels.

Goals: Anita 47, Gouffran 78

Referee: Keith Stroud (Bournemouth)

Attendance: 6,570 (1,012 Newcastle)