Newcastle gained their second consecutive away win for the first time since November 2014 on Monday when they beat Stoke City 1-0 via an Ayoze Perez goal at the Bet365 Stadium pushing Newcastle further up the table to 13th place and at the time of the final whistle giving them a four point lead over the drop zone.
Rafa Benitez kicked off the year with a very attacking lineup in a 4-5-1 formation with wingers Ritchie, Murphy and Atsu all starting and Spaniard Ayoze Perez playing up top as the target man. Paul Dummett was replaced by Javier Manquillo and there was a further two switches in central midfield; Isaac Hayden and Mikel Merino were swapped for Jonjo Shelvey and Mo Diame.
Match (First Half)
The first half of the game saw a massive change from Newcastle's previous game against Brighton which featured a very timid forward line, in this half United created many chances, (and squandered all of them) starting in the opening 10 minutes when Ayoze Perez flicked the ball back with his head to Christian Atsu for an easy opportunity to curl one into the top left from just inside the box, instead it went well wide of the left post with no curl whatsoever which made for an embarrassing attempt.
But the worst miss of the half for Newcastle was a real contender for the worst miss of the season as Ciaran Clark hit the ball high and wide from about two yards out following a corner. Matt Ritchie swung the ball in before Perez again flicked the ball on with his head this time towards Clark on the line, who hit the ball embarrassingly over the bar.
While Newcastle had plenty of chances Stoke had very few. The only notable attempt at goal for the potters was from a 30-yard Charlie Adam free kick. The Scotsman hit the ball well into the right hand side of the goal, however it was casually saved by Karl Darlow although he was slightly out of position.
Match (Second Half)
Mark Hughes had obviously told the Stoke players to go for the win in the second half as Newcastle had been creating chances, but finishing them very poorly in the previous half. Stoke almost found an opener in the first five minutes as Charlie Adam had yet another attempt at goal, this time from just outside of the box which missed the post by inches.
Soon later, the Potters had another chance from the same position, this time Choupo-Moting tried to curl the ball into the corner of the goal, but his great effort was met by an even greater save by Darlow as he had to go full stretch to keep the score level at 0-0.
But Stoke couldn't keep the pressure on and soon it was Newcastle with all the possession, the magpies had yet another chance to score when a free kick by Jonjo Shelvey, which was in a similar position to Adam's in the first half, was fired inches past the post at an incredible speed; Newcastle fans were starting to wonder if all of these misses would come back to haunt them. To try and make sure that didn't happen, Newcastle put on Dwight Gayle as a replacement for a misfiring Christian Atsu.
Five minutes after the free kick, Jacob Murphy capitalized on Charlie Adam's passing mistake and made a long run down the wing before making a fantastic low cross toward Ayoze Perez who toe-poked the ball through Jack Butland's legs before wheeling away in celebration.
Newcastle probably would've gone on to get another goal if they didn't change the team up about ten minutes after the goal. Jacob Murphy (Newcastle's most useful player) was taken off for Paul Dummett which pretty much stopped the magpies' attacks completely. They had previously taken off Christian Atsu and were left with only one winger on the pitch in Matt Ritchie. From this point on it was all hands on deck for the rest of the game, in the last 15 minutes Stoke were completely in control, and the only reason the toon army went home happy is because of some late heroics by Karl Darlow including stopping Mame Diouf's close volley with four minutes left and another quick save with his arm in extra time to save the magpies and to grant them all three points. The game finished 1-0, but both sides could've scored many more times.
Our next upcoming match is at home in the FA cup third round against fourth division side Luton Town. Obviously it will not be the main starters out on the pitch, the starting 11 will probably be much like a shop window with many players that Rafa is looking to sell starting. However there is NO excuse to lose this game, we should be going through to the next round quite easily as it is only Luton Town after all.