Miles Starforth’s match analysis: Sporting Lokeren 0 Newcastle United 4

Newcastle's Ayoze Perez.
Newcastle's Ayoze Perez.

It was a timely reminder for Rafa Benitez.

Newcastle United still look short of a striker ahead of the new Championship campaign.

But Ayoze Perez isn’t short of confidence in front of goal.

And the 23-year-old is arguably the best finisher at the club, as he underlined at a sunny Daknamstadion on Saturday.

Perez scored two of Newcastle’s goals in a 4-0 win over Sporting Lokeren.

Both were a joy to watch.

For the first, Perez – who has indicated his willingness to stay and help United win promotion from the Championship – put the ball through an opponents legs before playing in Rolando Aarons, who ran to the byline.

Perez continued his run towards goal and met Aarons’ cross at the near post to give his team a 13th-minute lead.

The second, scored late in the half, was even better.

A ball forward from Jack Colback was flicked backwards by Dwight Gayle, and Perez struck a crisp, first-time effort past Sporting goalkeeper Davino Verhulst.

However, Benitez feels Perez can be better, much better.

Benitez wants his fellow Spaniard to play with more intelligence.

The forward, signed two years ago as an unknown, has the natural ability and dynamism needed to play at the highest level.

But it is still unclear just who will lead the line against Fulham at Craven Cottage on August 5.

Aleksandar Mitrovic – who doesn’t have the pace to get in behind teams, but can ably hold the ball up – laboured up front after replacing Perez.

Gayle, signed from Crystal Palace for £10million this summer, would seem the likeliest of all to start, but Benitez is being very guarded.

Daryl Janmaat and Jonjo Shelvey also scored for United, backed by a couple of hundred fans at the Daknamstadion, against Lokeren.

It was a convincing win.

Once Newcastle went 2-0 up – makeshift winger Janmaat headed a free-kick beyond Verhulst in the 26th minute – there was no way back for Sporting, managed by former Belgium coach Georges Leekens.

Shelvey, a second-half substitute, added a fourth in the 48th minute with a deflected shot.

Not much else happened, though Jesus Gamez, signed from Atletico Madrid this summer, was sent off late in the game for tangling with Marko Miric after he was fouled.

Benitez was in the Daknamstadion’s makeshift Press room minutes after the final whistle.

In fact, he was there before most of the journalists covering the game.

When the room finally filled up, Benitez make it clear that he still felt the was “room for improvement” from a team which has already been well-backed to win the Championship.

“There is plenty of room for improvement,” said Benitez, who didn’t defend Gamez’s actions.

“I’m happy, but still we need to give more. I have seen an improvement in some things, but still I would like a bit more.”

And that’s the thing, Benitez wants more.

More from Perez. More from Mitrovic. And more from every one of his players.

Why wouldn’t he? Last season, Steve McClaren, his predecessor, gushed about some abject performances. He seemed content when his side’s performances got close to mediocrity.

He couldn’t praise his players enough, at least in public, in an attempt to coax performances out of them.

But United fans weren’t fooled. They knew what they were watching, and they knew the direction the team was going.

Newcastle look to be on the up, but there’s work still to be done.

They won’t be allowed to play like they did against Sporting in the Championship, a division where time on the ball is a rarity.

And there will be games where their one and two-touch passing won’t work. Teams will sit back, soak it up and rely on quick breaks and set-pieces.

Are there enough goals in the team? Is there enough height in the side? Probably not as it stands.

The sale of Georginio Wijnaldum was step forward, as the midfielder had made it clear he wanted to leave. Keeping him would have risked upsetting the dressing room, and the team won’t win promotion if it is only united in name.

We don’t yet know who will be starting up front against Fulham, but United’s three pre-season friendlies have given us a few clues as to Benitez’s thinking.

It seems clear that Matz Sels, barring an injury, will be in goal at Craven Cottage.

And Benitez also seems minded to hand Jamaal Lascelles the captain’s armband following the departure of long-serving skipper Fabricio Coloccini.

Also, Benitez has been using a 4-2-3-1 formation, or variation of it, in the club’s early friendlies.

interestingly, Benitez has also taken a close look at Jamie Sterry.

The 20-year-old has been part of the first-team squad in pre-season.

Sterry – who has never had a loan spell away from St James’s Park – has started two of those games at right-back, and Benitez seems to be testing him for a back-up role behind Janmaat this season.

Certainly, he hasn’t looked out of place in the team, though he has greater tests ahead of him.

Next stop for the club is Roots Hall tomorrow night.

Newcastle take on Phil Brown’s Southend United in their penultimate pre-season fixture.

It’ll be a tougher fixture. And it’ll only get tougher from here on in.

NEWCASTLE UNITED: Sels (Darlow, 72); Sterry (Gouffran, 63), Mbemba (Saivet, 73), Lascelles (Dummett, 63), Anita (Gamez, 46); Hayden (Shelvey, 46), Colback (Tiote, 73); Janmaat, Perez (Mitrovic, 46), Aarons (Thauvin, 63); Gayle (Armstrong, 63).

Goals: Perez 13, 39, Janmaat 26, Shelvey 48

Bookings: Tiote 85. Sent off: Gamez 88

Referee: Christof Dierick. Attendance: 2,876.