Newcastle United marched on through to an EFL Quarter-Final against Hull City with a resounding 6-0 win over Preston at St. James’ Park on Tuesday night yet The Magpies must be on their guard against overconfidence and complacency when they travel to Sir Tom Finney Way to face the Lilywhites in The Championship on Saturday.
Preston manager Simon Grayson, clearly prioritising the possibility of Championship points more than passage through to the Cup – made no fewer than nine changes from his in-form team that had beaten Norwich at Carrow Road and Magpies’ conquerors Huddersfield previously.
Everything that could have went Newcastle’s way did on Tuesday night – a weakened side was furthered weakened by an early red card for Alan Browne and The Magpies were also awarded a rare penalty – yet from start to finish Newcastle were dramatically the better side and double figures would not have flattered them.
Rafa Benitez’s black and whites possess the talent, the players, the confidence and everything they need to beat Preston again yet they must ensure they concentrate 100% and perform to the ability they possess.
Following their last 6-0 trouncing of a side – QPR back in mid-September – to cap a memorable six-game run exactly as they again did on Tuesday night, Newcastle didn’t do justice to themselves and lost 2-0 to Wolves.
Speaking about the Ipswich 3-0 game in Tuesday’s programmed, ‘Magic’ Matt Ritchie referred to that game:
“We’ve had some good results of late. Going back a couple of weeks, we had a big game here and got beaten against Wolves, so its nice to continue the run and show that we’ve obviously learned from that little bit of complacency, if that’s what it was.”
Magpies fans desperate for Newcastle to be promoted instantly back into The Premier League where the club belongs will hope lessons have been learned although everyone on Tyneside knows how easy it is to get caught up in the good-feeling coursing through the veins of the North’s Premier city during winning runs.
EFL Cup Draw Could Have Been A Hull Of A Lot Worse
Its a feeling enhanced by what most Newcastle fans and neutrals regard as a kind Quarter Final draw away to Hull instead of Arsenal or Manchester United though Benitez was quick to recognise it as a dangerous away tie against top flight opposition:
“We have confidence, because we are doing well, but we have a lot of respect for Hull because they are a Premier League team and we will play away from home.
“So we will approach the game with hope that we can do well – but also knowing that it will be a hard game against a side from a higher league.”
Mike Phelan’s men will certainly be prioritising Premier League survival which could be in Newcastle’s favour yet with The Tigers only two rounds from Wembley, will have at least half an eye on silverware themselves.
Newcastle have recorded terrific away victories on their last two visits to the KCOM Stadium – a 3-0 win in January 2015 and 4-1 in March 2014 under Alan Pardew – and Rafa will do his utmost to steer Newcastle through.
Rafa’s Rotation Raffle vs Preston – Who Will Play?
Its back to the bread and butter of The Championship on Saturday and Rafa has the luxury of almost everyone in the squad fit and raring to go in the squad and playing well – Grant Hanley seized his chance with both hands on Tuesday – when they do come in.
Aleksandar Mitrovic has staked a great claim, not only for Rafa’s starting line-up on Saturday, yet to genuinely convince that’s he on fire having scored five goals in his last three starts for club and country.
For the second time this season and coinciding with Mitrovic’s only two full matches – he started then went off injured against Cheltenham in The EFL Cup – Newcastle United blew a team away 6-0 just like they had QPR.
Its not just his goals that are making a difference yet the aerial dominance and hold-up play that allows Newcastle’s other players to feed off him and express their talents behind him as he wins balls and occupies defenders.
Teammate Mo Diame, who scored his first and second goals in a Newcastle shirt since a stuttering start to his Magpies career after joining in the summer was quick to recognise this important aspect of the striker’s game:
“He did a great job Mitro. It is always easy for the player behind when they hold the ball up.”
It was no coincidence Diame scored his first goals – diamond strikes at that – and should have scored a hat-trick after Mitrovic laid another first half chance on a plate yet the service was well appreciated by his teammate.
Newcastle’s leading goalscorer and no. 9 Dwight Gayle is yet to start a game alongside Mitrovic yet the Serbian’s hold-up play was the key to the last-gasp turnaround from 3-2 down to 4-3 winners against Norwich, a win which transformed Newcastle into the real deal from which they have not looked back.
Until Mitrovic came on in that one and a feature of Newcastle’s season so far is that great crosses rain into the opposition’s penalty area yet there is no real aerial threat or header of the ball to put them away.
Certainly against Norwich in the first half, Newcastle could have been out of sight if Mitrovic was playing as Paul Dummett fired dangerous crosses into the area that Gayle struggled to get on the end of.
Benitez favours a no. 10 behind a striker like Diame but with JonJo Shelvey pushed further forward with Isaac Hayden or Cheick Tiote holding the midfield deeper, Mitrovic and Gayle could play together up front.
Preston have a point to prove on Saturday and Newcastle must be on their mettle for win no. 7.