After four straight Premier League defeats – three of them to Burnley, Bournemouth and Watford – Newcastle needed to stop the rot.
An impressive first few months of the season has suddenly given way of late, and Rafael Benitez’s side are now struggling to make sure their fluctuating form stops when the side are safely in midtable and not worrying about dropping into a relegation battle.
Tuesday night’s performance against West Bromwich Albion – who are struggling themselves – may be cause for a little bit of hope.
An away draw is always creditable for a newly-promoted side in the Premier League, and especially one like Newcastle who are still on a journey of progression. But when you do it from 2-0 down in the second half it’s even better. Against a managerless West Brom, it might not have been the best point the Magpies will ever attain, but it was the battling performance which shows the most promise.
Matt Ritchie – valued at £8.1m by transfermarkt.com – may well be the player Newcastle will look to most often for inspiration if they’re to get their season back on track over the festive period and have a safe and solid finish to the campaign. They won’t be able to dominate games, and although a strong and well-organised defence should be a given under a Rafael Benitez team, it’s the creative spark at the other end which will be vital.
Relying on Joselu, Dwight Gayle and Aleksandr Mitrovic for goals this season is not an ideal situation, but if they are to get the strikes needed to earn points this season, Newcastle will need Ritchie to be at his creative best.
In fact, his three key passes, three crosses and five shots show how useful he can be to his side’s attacking play, but it was his quality from set-pieces that made the difference. One sumptuous corner which invited Ciaran Clark to rise highest and nod in the first started the comeback, before his free-kick was later deflected into his own net by Jonny Evans to earn Newcastle a point.
Quality like that and the ability to win games from set-pieces could be vital to Newcastle’s success this season. It’s clear that they’ll be a well-organised unit for most of the season with Benitez at the helm, even if they’re currently on a run without a clean sheet, but it will be a spark at the other end they’ll need to make sure they pick up points.