Newcastle United managed to win their first Premier League match of the season as they piled more pressure on West Ham United. This was billed as a contest between two struggling teams and it was clear they were both lacking in confidence during the early exchanges. The Magpies will never be completely out of games this season as long as Rafa Benitez is at the helm, as he organises them well. It was a well-deserved victory and it now looks a lot brighter on Tyneside. Here are three things that we learnt:
Rafa Benitez knows how to win football matches
The Newcastle manager has been widely discussed in the media recently, with some suggesting his complaints about a lack of signings are covering his own shortcomings. This was a stark reminder to his critics and Mike Ashley that he is the most valuable asset at St James’ Park. If they lost him, they would be in a very difficult position.
Against West Ham, he set the team up well and as ever with Benitez, the unit is more important than any single individual. They didn’t concede many clear-cut chances and when they did fall for the visitors, it was a result of an individual error rather than the team being cut open. Joselu and Ciaran Clark were both underwhelming signings, but they scored goals to give the home side three points. They show that the Magpies’ boss still has an eye for a player, even if his budget is a small one.
Slaven Bilic is running out of time
The Croatian has been under pressure for months and many were surprised he was kept on for the coming season. It was a show of faith from the West Ham board, especially as they gave him a significant budget to spend on the playing staff. However, the early signs are that it was the wrong decision. Bilic needed to get off to a quick start, but he has now led the team to three successive Premier League losses.
Their defensive problems needed to be addressed and they were better in that respect today, as Newcastle created few clear-cut chances. However, that came at a cost of the Hammers not threatening themselves, as they didn’t manage to have one shot on target during the first-half. The scheduling wasn’t kind to the West Ham boss as they have played their first three matches away from home, but that is no excuse. This was a match against another struggling team and they should have been looking to take something from the game. Bilic is surely now a man on borrowed time.
Matt Ritchie belongs at this level
After leaving Bournemouth to drop down to the Championship last season, Ritchie’s ambition was questioned. He left a Premier League side to become part of a project at St James’ Park. It is too soon to say whether it was the correct decision or not, but the winger was excellent on Saturday and proved that he can star at the highest level.
His work rate was commendable as he covered every blade of grass, contributing to the attack and defence. The second goal underlined what he offers, as he harried an opposition player to win the ball back and produced a good cross to set up Ciaran Clark. Ritchie is not a player to get supporters off their seats, but his consistency and determination make him crucial for this Newcastle side.