Newcastle 4-1 Preston Eight Things We Learnt: Super Ritchie

Rafa celebrates – mirror.co.uk

Newcastle secured promotion to the Premier League with a 4-1 win over Preston North End. Despite a tight first half in which Jordan Hugill cancelled out Ayoze Perez’s opener, Christian Atsu put the hosts back in front and they took control, helped by Paul Gallagher’s red card. What have we learnt from the match?

Strong Start

Newcastle started with an intensity that befitted the occasion, harrying a nervous looking Preston side. Vernun Anita got forward freely from right-back and after his ball across, Aleksandar Mitrovic turned before seeing his curling shot deflected wide. The resultant corner from Jonjo Shelvey flew across Chris Maxwell’s goal and with two Toon men hovering, Perez got the final touch. with questions of using his arm.

Gap behind Anita

Complacency crept in for Newcastle, who left themselves vulnerable to Preston’s left-sided breakaways. With Jamaal Lascelles and Anita indecisive in following up a pressing movement, Daniel Johnson broke free but his shot lacked the imagination to beat Rob Elliott. Newcastle failed to heed that warning side as Tom Barkhuizen exploited the same area, this time creating the equalizer. The ex-Morecambe man crossed for Hugill, who came alive in the penalty box to turn the ball into the far corner first time.

Preston needed big hitters further up

Barkhuizen demonstrated his pace when allowed to stay in the opposing half on three occasions. Aidan McGeady, who crossed for ex-Toon boy Paul Huntington to head at Elliott, has been Preston’s most creative player this season. Simon Grayson might have compromised the defensive contributions of one or both of those men to support Hugill, who won his initial headers but struggled for support.

Newcastle slow to switch

The aforementioned trio worked hard defensively to reasonable effect in the first half, with Newcastle unthreatening for long spells. Shelvey was the only player willing to switching the ball further than 10-yards and when he didn’t, it was easy for Preston to close them into tight areas in their half.

Game changer

It looked like Newcastle would have to labouredly break Preston down to score the next goal, but instead they got it through a rare breakaway. The Lilywhites pressed too far up the pitch and Isaac Hayden capitalized to play through Mitrovic, who spotted Christian Atsu in space and the winger tucked home.

It was Ritchie Newcastle looked for

Former Bournemouth wide man Matt Ritchie was Newcastle’s most inventive player in the first hour. Though not everything he did come off, his willingness to do the unexpected meant one who changed the direction of play in the final third. It was fitting that he got the clinching goal from a confident penalty, after Gallagher was sent off for handling Hayden’s shot on the line. Perez added a fourth in similar style to his opener, ensuring a relaxed finale for the hosts that did not reflect the nature of the contest prior to the red card.

Preston rely on their big hitters

For the Lancashire visitors, this game shows the importance of partly outfield players not using their hands and partly key players. The absence of a leader in Tom Clarke hindered them at key moments defensively, likewise Greg Cunningham, one of the best left-backs in the division and the dynamic Ben Pearson.

Toon are up

Considering the struggles of their fellow-relegated sides – and that Newcastle could still get more points than last years’ champions – it would be grossly unfair to pick holes in the manner in which they have won promotion. Though they may not have a side ready to replicate the Kevin Keegan or Bobby Robson days, they have navigated a challenging division with relative comfort. Time to cast scepticism aside, for now and congratulate the club on a good achievement.