Twice in the first half at Huddersfield, the floodlights almost gave up, flickering and dimming before forcing themselves to go on. Salomon Rondon must have known the feeling, but he kept going too, and was rewarded with a vital winning goal for Newcastle United.
It gave Rafa Benitez’s side a first victory in four matches, and sent the opponents, and relegation rivals, to a fourth successive defeat. Nothing is decided in December, but it felt like a big win for Newcastle nonetheless.
Newcastle’s November was so good that Rafa Benitez won the Premier League’s manager of the month award, but December had been a rather bleaker month before his team arrived in West Yorkshire. So bleak, in fact, that the players took the decision to cancel a planned Christmas party in London this weekend.
Benitez has done a fine job of making Newcastle competitive on minimal investment, but it is clear that this will be a tough winter unless the club’s owner, whether that be Mike Ashley or someone else, puts in money to allow the manager to buy some help for Rondon in attack.
Rondon works ever so hard for the Newcastle cause; at one point in the first half, he was back, 25 yards from his own goal, whipping the ball off Chris Lowe’s feet to prevent Huddersfield building attacking momentum from a throw-in. Too often, though, he has to shoulder an excessive burden at the other end of the pitch.
Thankfully for Newcastle, he keeps putting in the work, and every so often, draws the benefits. Rondon finished off an excellent counter-attack 10 minutes into the second half, sweeping in Javier Manquillo’s low cross from eight yards to send the visiting fans delirious. So delirious, that they attempted to rework Wham’s Last Christmas, somehow cramming Benitez’s name into the line about giving their heart to someone special. Like Newcastle’s performance, it was an untidy effort, but full of commitment.
The goal came after a first half in which Newcastle had clung on grimly to keep the match scoreless; when they did get in on goal, it was because the home side switched off defensively, with goalkeeper Jonas Lossl bailing out his team-mates, saving from Christian Atsu and then Fabian Schar.
For the most part, though, Newcastle had to defend. Huddersfield were without the midfield creativity of Aaron Mooy, who will be out until February with knee ligament damage, and struggled to turn their possession into to clear chances.
Martin Dubravka, in the Newcastle goal, was relatively well protected, but made a superb save to tip over Philip Billing’s free-kick in the 20th minute. Rather less well protected by the Newcastle defence was Huddersfield striker Laurent Depoitre, sent crashing into the advertising boards by a reckless waist-high challenge from Jamaal Lascelles, who escaped with a yellow card.
Newcastle, unquestionably second-best during the first half, began to look dangerous as Huddersfield committed themselves in search of the victory. Lossl was alert to push away a first-time Atsu shot after Ayoze Perez had diverted a hurried Christopher Schindler clearance towards him, but could do nothing as Rondon scored 10 minutes into the second half.
It was a well-constructed counter-attack that began with Dubravka and Lascelles, with Schar’s forward ball played on by Perez to Javier Manquillo, who crossed low for the unmarked Rondon to sweep in.
The home side, shorn of Mooy, were short of a response. They thought they might have had it when Dubravka pushed away a Chris Lowe shot straight into the path of Florent Hadergjonaj, but the wing-back could not keep his feet on the turf and was offside anyway.
Huddersfield have worked miracles just to be competitive at this level, but their lack of goals is a problem that head coach David Wagner has never been able to solve, He needs to solve it quickly.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies