Goals from new-signing Joselu, Ciaran Clark, and Aleksandar Mitrovic were enough for an inspired Newcastle United side to condemn us to a third straight Premier League defeat at St James’ Park yesterday afternoon.
The defeat places a huge amount of pressure on our Croatian manager Slaven Bilic, but for Newcastle’s Rafa Benitez, the pressure has well and truly been eased.
The severity of the loss has been made worse by the fact that we had the luxury of many of our injured first-team members returning to the squad, as Manuel Lanzini, Cheikhou Kouyate and Michail Antonio all featured.
Many questioned Bilic’s original starting line-up, with a midfield three of skipper Mark Noble, Edimilson Fernandes and Declan Rice and it was not hard to see why.
The hosts welcomed new-signing Joselu into their starting Xl but were still without skipper Jonjo Shelvey. Midweek stars Rolando Aarons and Mitrovic had to settle for a place on the bench, but the latter would have a chance to impact the game later on.
In terms of the action on the field, a packed-out St James’ Park witnessed a drab first half an hour. However, it would only take one moment to spark the game into life.
Young Irish International Declan Rice had been one of the surprise packages of the season up until yesterday, but the starlet was about to become unstuck for the home side to take the lead.
Rice was caught in possession by the host’s duo of Matt Ritchie and Ayoze Perez who shifted the ball to Mikel Merino to pick out Christian Atsu. The No30 then played an intricate ball into former Stoke City man Joselu to finish underneath Rice and leave the 18-year-old with his head in his hands flat out on 36 minutes.
The goal, although coming against the run of play, rounded off a poor half for us that included a lengthy stoppage for an injury sustained by Andre Ayew, but things were not about to get any better for the traveling Claret & Blue Army.
However, we did create a wonderful opportunity to draw level just after the break, as Aaron Cresswell let fly from range forcing a save from Rob Elliot. Javier Hernandez diverted the rebound goal wards only for a last-ditch block from Clark to keep Antonio from tapping home. Despite this, the home side would soon double their advantage.
Having wriggled free from Manuel Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell on the right flank, Ritchie found the head of Clark with a superb delivery into the area for the Irishman to fire a header in off the post, giving Joe Hart no chance.
A now depleted Hammers side struggled to launch a comeback and could barely string two passes together at one stage, failing to limit the damage late on.
Our day was wholly summed up when Ayoze Perez beat Kouyate to a loose ball and managed to play in Mitrovic in the process, catching out our sleeping back four. The Serbian forward would need no second chance to round Hart, tap into an empty net and ensure that our defence is The League’s leakiest heading into September.
Victory for the hosts means that they now sit well above the Relegation in 14th place. Whereas, we remain rooted to 20th place and have now endured a worse start than the 2010/2011 season, a campaign in which we were Relegated.
Slaven Bilic may now face a do or die mission for the visit of Huddersfield Town in our first home game of the season, after the International Break. With a loss in that Monday Night Football encounter, he could be given the chop.