Newcastle United brought an end to their record of being the worst team at home in the Premier League this season when they picked up a much-needed 1-0 victory against Manchester United at St James’ Park on Sunday to move themselves out of the relegation zone.
The Magpies came into the clash without a win on their own patch since they beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in October, and they had taken just 13 points and scored just 11 goals in their 13 fixtures on Tyneside.
Considering the Red Devils have also been one of the best teams in the top flight on their travels this term, not too many people would have predicted Rafa Benitez’s men picking up all three points – or even one – beforehand.
To get results like the one against Man United you need your key players to be playing at the top of their games, and one of the reasons that Newcastle’s home form has been so poor and they find themselves struggling at the wrong end of the table is because that hasn’t been the case.
Winger Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey were two of the Toon players that shone as the Magpies lifted the Championship trophy during the previous season, and Benitez and the St James’ Park faithful would have been extremely hopeful that they would bring that form and influence to their Premier League campaign – especially when their summer transfer business didn’t exactly go to plan.
Ritchie scored 12 goals and provided a further eight assists in 42 second tier outings last term, while Shelvey made a big impact in the middle of the park week after week because of his quality in possession of the ball.
The same certainly couldn’t be said about the duo this time around though prior to the Man United clash, with Ritchie failing to score and registering five assists, while Shelvey had been sent off twice to cost his team not only in those games, but also the matches he missed subsequently because of suspension.
The former Liverpool midfielder has been in and out of the starting XI at points this term, including when he was an unused substitute in the 1-1 draw against Burnley at St James’ Park on January 31, and there was certainly no guarantee that he would keep his place in the team against Mourinho’s men considering he didn’t exactly impress in the 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace previously.
Ritchie only played 18 minutes against Manchester City and Burnley before also returning to the side against the Eagles, but he was another that did well from a defensive point of view, but failed to offer much going forward for his side.
Benitez had a big decision to make on the duo’s participation against the Red Devils on Sunday, and he decided to name both from the start despite the fact that the likes of Isaac Hayden, Mikel Merino, Jacob Murphy and Christian Atsu are all battling them for their spot in the side.
While the Spaniard may not have seen it as too much of a risk, it was one that paid off as it was Shelvey’s quick free-kick that eventually led to Ritchie getting first goal of the season and a crucial three points for Newcastle.
The win moved the Magpies up to 13th position and on to 28 points, and the way things are going at the moment it would seem as though 40 points would be enough to guarantee survival, meaning they need 12 points from their final 11 Premier League games.
That is certainly an achievable target for the Benitez’s side, but one thing is for sure and that is that they need Ritchie and Shelvey to put in performances like they did against Man United every game from now until the end of the campaign.
It is no coincidence that Newcastle picked up a significant result when the duo shine, and it shows how influential and important they will be in the remaining fixtures.