Newcastle United’s Championship-title campaign stuttered in a dreadful first half against Bristol City on Saturday as Rafa Benitez paid the price of not selecting his best available team ahead of a busy week away from home.
With Dwight Gayle injured, Newcastle turned once again to their no. 45 Aleksandar Mitrovic yet failed to provide him with the support he needs up front – Mo Diame – and from wide areas, namely crosses into the box:
Newcastle were struggling against Aston Villa until Mitrovic’s arrival and the big Serbian immediately dovetailed with Mo Diame as they have all season forcing corner after corner and eventually the victory from two set-pieces.
In big wins against Preston North End at home – 6-0 in the EFL Cup – and more recently against Derby at home and Wolves away in crucial 1-0 victories -the pairing of Mitrovic and Diame has proved a fruitful one, something both players recognise, Diame saying of Mitrovic:
“He is a warrior.
“I have watched him train and he’s a real fighter.
“He’s a great player, he will help us a lot.
“The Championship is tough and hard and we need characters like Mitro.”
Height, presence, physical work all over the back four from both men put paid to a Villa side that had easily dealt with the under-strength Gayle and are the exact qualities needed by Newcastle in their most pivotal week in The Championship to date. Diame was also brilliant against Brighton at home helping Newcastle cruise in the end to a 2-0 win that demonstrated who the best side in the EFL really are.
Yet also pivotal in the game was the sending off of Brighton’s Sam Baldock, the first time Newcastle United had played against 10 men for over 100 games.
Three consecutive away games against top of the table Brighton, 3rd-placed Huddersfield and 5th-placed Reading mean Newcastle must summon their most imperious away form to establish their rightful place at the top of the table.
Of course, without such refereeing farces as Fulham & Notts Forest away, Newcastle United would already be five points clear at the top of The Championship so the club must be on their guard against dodgy officiating.
As The Chronicle revealed last week, its 30 games now since Newcastle received a penalty in The Championship and have only had 3 awarded despite being the division’s most attacking team while Brighton have been awarded 9 and Reading 11.
Its already ludicrous that Newcastle are playing away three times in a week despite offering to play a different date for the trip to Brighton and clash at the Amex Stadium, meaning 9000 loyal Geordie fans will be travelling 1500 miles to fill their section of three different stadiums to cheer on their heroes.
And to learn that the referee for the clash is Bobby Madley, who is not only a Huddersfield fan with a direct vested interest in the match for his own club loyalties yet was villain of the Geordie peace in last season’s Wear-Tyne derby, wrongly sending off Fabricio Coloccini after missing this blatant penalty on Gini Wijnaldum.
Ultimately, the decision to send then-Captain Coloccini off was rescinded yet it cost Newcastle United their Premier League status and £100m lost in television revenue in the long-run.
In fact as the table above shows, Newcastle were on the receiving end of the most wrong decisions by officials in The Premier League and would have finished 14th on a level playing-field harming both the club’s finances, global reputation and also that of some of its players.
Serbian international Aleksandar Mitrovic, for example, has acknowledged his part in Newcastle’s relegation last season, telling The Chronicle:
“I stayed here because I wanted to get the team back to the Premier League.
“I was part of the team that were relegated and I feel responsible. I want to try to help the team to get back.
“We’re on a good run now, though, and hopefully at the end of the season we’ll be back.”
yet if goals like this he scored against top level opposition away from home and were wrongly denied had counted – the following strike would have made it 2-0 at The Etihad, for example, doubling his tally on the day – Newcastle would have stayed up.
Rafa Benitez has called on the referees for extra protection for Mitrovic yet the best protection he can get on the pitch is having a big foil like Mo Diame up with him alongside him in the Newcastle attack.
Add service in the form of real aerial crosses and surround him with players feeding off the balls he wins will restore Newcastle’s position at the top of The Championship.
Like Premier League referee Bobby Madley’s inexplicable dropping down a division to referee what could prove the Championship trophy-deciding tie, with any justice, Newcastle United’s stay in The Championship will prove only a very short one.