Miles Starforth: Truly memorable night as Rafa Benitez’s bold call pays off

Ayoze Perez
Ayoze Perez

On the evidence of the thrashing they gave Queens Park Rangers last night, Newcastle United will take some beating this season.

Rafa Benitez’s side were better in every department.

They out-fought, out-thought and out-played their hosts, who were beaten 6-0 at Loftus Road.

It was Newcastle’s biggest league away win since 1962.

But still the scoreline doesn’t quite reflect United’s dominance over 90 hot and sticky minutes in west London.

Huddersfield Town’s 1-0 defeat at Brighton and Hove Albion saw Rafa Benitez’s side move to within a point of the Championship leaders.

Benitez opted to hand Aleksandar Mitrovic his first start – and first minutes – in the Championship five weeks into the new season.

It was a bold decision from Benitez, who left leading scorer Dwight Gayle on the bench at Loftus Road.

As it was, he stayed there. Gayle, the club’s four-goal leading scorer, wasn’t needed.

Ciaran Clark, Ayoze Perez and Isaac Hayden were also recalled at Loftus Road, where Benitez’s side were backed by 3,005 fans.

Mitrovic had missed the first four games of the season through suspension, and the following match against Brighton and Hove Albion with the concussion he suffered in the club’s EFL Cup win over Cheltenham Town.

The 21-year-old didn’t make it off the bench on Saturday at the iPro Stadium, where Newcastle beat Derby County 2-0 to climb up to second in the Championship.

It was a chance for Mitrovic, sent off in the final game of last season, to show Benitez – who signed Daryl Murphy from Ipswich Town late last month to compete with the Serbia international – that he has the temperament for the Championship.

Benitez also wanted a starting XI capable of matching what he felt were a physically-strong QPR side.

In the end, United more than matched their hosts physically. And they played them off the park.

Also, Mitrovic didn’t just score, he also kept his discipline.

Jonjo Shelvey had a goal disallowed during a scrappy start at Loftus Road.

But within minutes the midfielder was on the scoresheet, having had a shot deflected past a helpless Alex Smithies.

Shelvey ran the full length of the pitch to celebrate with United’s large following in the School End.

The 24-year-old wouldn’t have so far to run for his second-half strike.

By the 20-minute mark, Newcastle looked in control, and QPR weren’t helped by the loss of former United defender James Perch, who was stretchered off with what Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink described as a “bad” injury after the match.

Benitez’s side were starting to create openings with the ball, while the home side were struggling to find spaces of their own.

And things got better for Newcastle in the 30th minute.

Matt Ritchie broke down the left and bent a superb low cross around the back of the QPR defence for Perez, whose first shot was saved. Perez netted at the second attempt to open his Championship account.

Jamaal Lascelles, so dominant against Derby, ably dealt with everything that was thrown at him in the first half.

By the break, United had stretched their run without conceding a goal, with the help of a late save from Matz Sels, to 450 minutes.

It got even better after the break.

Perez laid the ball off to Shelvey, stood just over 20 yards from goal. He took a touch and curled a stunning shot into the far corner. Again, Smithies was helpless. And again, Shelvey celebrated wildly in front of Newcastle’s supporters.

But Newcastle weren’t finished. Eight minutes later Clark powerfully headed a Ritchie corner home for his first United goal since his move from Aston Villa.

Benitez handed Christian Atsu, signed on a season-long loan from Chelsea, his debut in the 60th minute. Gouffran – who had been a doubt with a hip problem – came off.

Time and again Newcastle got in behind their visitors.

Mitrovic netted a tap-in in the 63rd minute, Perez again with the assist.

DeAndre Yedlin replaced Mitrovic for the last 15 minutes. He’d done his job.

Grant Hanley, on for Paul Dummett, scored a sixth goal in 79th minute from a Ritchie corner.

Chances came and went in the final few minutes, but the game had been won early before the break.

After the final whistle, the players, one by one, went to applaud Newcastle’s jubilant following.

They’ve had some truly miserable away trips in recent years – probably enough to last a lifetime – but this was truly memorable.

The fans enjoyed it. And so did the players.