It was a huge decision to spend £10 million on Dwight Gayle this summer as Newcastle tried to put together a squad that could bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt. He had performed well at Crystal Palace without ever securing a regular spot in the first team. Although the move meant he had to drop down a division, Newcastle United are historically a bigger club than Crystal Palace and St James’ Park is a pressured environment to play your football. If things are going well, then the atmosphere can be incredible and carry the team to a better performance, but the flipside is true when the team are struggling to get results.
Gayle fought off competition from Aleksandar Mitrovic to take the illustrious number nine shirt at the club and he has already established himself as the club’s premier striker. Rafa Benitez has favoured a 4-2-3-1 throughout his career and he has continued with it at Newcastle. At first there were doubts about Gayle’s ability to play as a lone striker, but he has grown into the role. He has been helped by Mo Diame playing behind him, as the midfielder is more physical and can bully defenders, allowing Gayle to take advantage of the space that is created.
His goal-scoring record has been impressive over the first quarter of the season, as he has scored seven goals in nine appearances. The former Crystal Palace striker has found the back of the net every 110.4 minutes, which is an excellent return in a period of settling into a new club. Newcastle are the favourites for the division, but it requires a confident and assured character to take the responsibility of scoring goals.
The 25-year-old is seen as a poacher, but he has shown he has much more to his game since moving to the North East. His technical ability has shone through and best displayed by his goal against Reading. It came from a free kick that was around 30 yards away from goal and he put the ball in the top corner. At the time, supporters were surprised to see Gayle step up to take the free kick, but he showed that he can be more than just a penalty box player.
His hat-trick against Norwich required all the qualities it takes to play number nine for Newcastle and Gayle showed that he possesses all of them. He was clinical in front of goal, but it was his overall performance that impressed. The striker demanded the ball and took the responsibility of getting his side back into the game. It was clear on the night that if Newcastle were to get anything from the game, it would come from the boot of Dwight Gayle and he was the match-winner in the end. The striker gave a talismanic performance that previous incumbents of the number nine shirt would have been proud of. There were concerns about Gayle’s ability to deal with the pressure of the shirt when he opted to take the number in August. However, those concerns no longer exist and he is quickly becoming one of the key men in Newcastle’s promotion push.
Unless he gets injured, Gayle will be one of the leading goal-scorers in the Championship and will be setting himself a target of 25 goals. The only barrier in his way is the rotation that is employed by Benitez. The Spaniard likes to protect his players from niggles and nobody has been exempt from being rotated this season. Also the competition in the squad means that if Gayle stops scoring goals, he will be dropped either for Aleksandar Mitrovic or Daryl Murphy.
That said, Gayle has thrived in the environment created at Newcastle and looks to be a player that is too good for the Championship. He chose the correct move for him and in a year’s time, he will hopefully have another attempt at the Premier League, but this time with a team that is playing to his strengths. First he must fire Newcastle to promotion and if he continues in this form, I’d expect him to finish the season as the league’s top scorer.
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