Its early days yet could 6ft 7 in Stoke City striker Peter Crouch be the missing piece in The Magpies promotion jigsaw?
Newcastle United lost their first game back in The Championship against Fulham on Friday night as referee Simon Hooper denied Newcastle three stonewall penalties for handball. A “Wake Up Call” is how Magpies manager Rafa Benitez dubbed the game, as the realities of life in the second tier of English football were hammered – and headed – home – by Matt Smith and Slavisa Jokanovic’s Cottagers.
More strength, fight and height are needed, missing from the side Benitez, a Championship debutant himself, picked and he’d have learned a lot about what is required to get out of the division.
The fact that the only goal of the game was scored by 6ft 6in Smith, a striker who shot to national prominence with memorable FA Cup goals against Liverpool & Everton in 2013, served to underline the different skillset needed to get out of The Championship and back to The Premier League.
A glut of headed goals from the likes of Shola Ameobi, Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Marlon Harewood in the 2009/10 promotion season meant an instant return as Chris Hughton ensured The Magpies always had a big striker or two in their ranks to do damage where it mattered in front of goal.
Aleksandar Mitrovic is a powerful, bustling striker who like Carroll did will thrive in The Championship where the game is more rough and tumble yet a 4-match ban means Newcastle are light up front.
Dwight Gayle arrived to much fanfare and was given the no. 9 shirt yet he is a pacy, goalscoring finisher who needs a big partner. In tandem with Perez, they are a lightweight strike-force especially away from home where aerial power and chances converted from set-pieces could prove crucial.
As Zlatan Ibrahimovich – all 6ft 5in of him – proved at Wembley, height can be crucial in football and the importance of a big striker is not lost on the world’s greatest manager Jose Mourinho.
Indeed, The Special One subbed substitute Juan Mata off at the death of that showpiece game as he expected an avalanche of long balls from Leicester City as they tried to force the game into extra time even throwing keeper Kaspar Schmeichel up for late corners, saying simply:
“I needed to take off the smallest player because we were expecting a lot of long balls,”
5ft 10in new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan came on for Mata and helped defend the set-piece onslaught, something Newcastle markedly failed to do at The Cottage on Friday night with Jamaal Lascelles being outjumped by the taller Smith and no men were on the goal-line or posts as essential cover.
Newcastle missed Mitrovic’s aerial presence at both ends yet the Serbian is banned for another three games and what is Newcastle’s Plan B if he was to get sent off or heaven forbid injured down the line?
Enter the C-man, Peter Crouch, at 6ft 7in still one of the tallest strikers in the modern game.
The 35 year-old former England striker is well-known to Newcastle fans having scored the above equaliser after coming on as a late sub at St James’ Park in 2015 and also a winner at The Brittania Stadium 6 months earlier, when he celebrated with a unique celebration dedicated to a Geordie mate.
Crouch, who has 32 Championship goals to his name among his 132 career goals in 512 games is also known to Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez, who signed him when Liverpool boss and the player is keen to move to ensure more first-team football than he got at Stoke last year:
“If I can’t play then maybe I do have to move on,” Crouch said. All I can do is try to take opportunities when I’m given them and try to force my way back in. There have been times when it’s been hard. When you’re running on the pitch after games, you’ve been watching but haven’t been part of it. You say that you’re part of it, of course, but it doesn’t feel like it at times.”
As well as his obvious heading ability due to his gargantuan height, Crouch is useful on the ground and his experience would greatly improve the “game management” Benitez said Newcastle lacked at Fulham.
A wise older head like Crouch leading the line would give Newcastle greater presence and make them less naive and pose opponents an entirely different threat from The Magpies.
Crouch has always been a popular footballer, no more so than when he did his Robot dance for England, for whom he scored an exceptionally impressive 22 goals in 42 games.
Rafa Benitez wants a further front man to boost his striking ranks (after defender Brendan Galloway joins) and with Crouch looking for first team football it could be a matchmade in football heaven as he would prove a cult figure on Tyneside if he guided the black and whites to The Championship title.