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After a slow start, can Dwight Gayle fire Newcastle United to safety?

Newcastle United’s Dwight Gayle has never been considered as a player worthy of being a leading Premier League striker, but his finish to the 2017/18 season could drastically change opinions, writes Jake Jackman.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Dwight Gayle has had an interesting journey to the top of the game, famously making his name in non-league before working his way up the Football League.

Despite his natural talent and determination to establish himself at the very top, he has been pigeonholed as a player that is too good for the Championship, but not good enough for the Premier League.

During his time at Crystal Palace, he showed flashes of his ability and scored some crucial goals. He became an unpopular figure among Liverpool supporters, often scoring against the Merseyside club. He has four goals against the Reds total – his best record against any individual club.

However, he failed to secure a regular starting berth at Selhurst Park, regularly being used as an impact substitute. On the rare occasions that he did find himself in the first elevn, he was played out of position.

It became a topic of debate for Palace supporters as Gayle was seen as the club’s biggest goal threat. In each of his three seasons with the London outfit he was a regular scorer, but he never managed to fully convince.

His instincts in the final third weren’t enough to impress the number of managers that he worked under and, during the summer of 2016, he was forced to take a step backward in order to progress. Gayle’s career was stagnating in South London and a transfer to recently relegated Newcastle United, for a reported fee of about £10m, was too good to turn down.

The Magpies are a club that have become famous for their goal-scoring number nines. Their supporters are among the most passionate in European football and Rafa Benitez was the manager leading the revival.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Although Gayle had to drop down a division, it was far from a backward step as there was potential to be part of an exciting project at St James’ Park and develop as player under one of the best managers in the world. BBC Sport reported the following quotes from the striker after the transfer was announced:

“He is a great manager and has great experience,”

“There’s expectation, but under the manager here I believe he can help me to perform.

“There’s a great history at Newcastle – I’m looking forward to getting this club back in the Premier League and proving a few people wrong.”

The fee of £12 million was seen as a bargain by Benitez. Newcastle were getting a proven goal-scorer in the Championship with potential to grow with the club. Upon signing for the North East club, it was noted that the famous number nine shirt was vacant and Gayle immediately became a leading candidate to take the jersey.

There was competition from Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the new signing won the battle and that heaped even more pressure on him to hit the ground running.

He certainly did that and if it wasn’t for a second-half of the season hampered by injuries, Gayle could have had a record-breaking season.

The striker scored 23 times in just 32 matches and averaged a goal every 93.3 minutes. His strike rate was considerably better than any other player in the division and he looked a class above. After Newcastle sealed promotion, it was expected that the 27-year-old would now make a name for himself in the top-flight.

That hasn’t been the case and he has once again struggled to secure a regular starting place in the Premier League. He has started 14 times and his performances have been inconsistent. There has been some concern over his mental state, as Benitez alluded to with these comments in August reported by the Shields Gazette:

“He’s fine. Hopefully, he’ll carry on training. If everything’s fine, he will be available. It’s not his hamstring, it’s more the feeling. He’s not comfortable. We don’t want to take any risks and be sure he is fine.”

The Guardian reported that Benitez was ready to sell Gayle towards the end of the summer window, due to these concerns. However, the striker remained at St James’ Park and it has been a slow road back to a starring role.

Goals against Manchester United and Chelsea offered encouragement, but he remained a shadow of the player that stole the headlines in the Championship.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Admittedly, it was a lower standard in the second tier, but there had been a noticeable regression in Gayle’s performances since the end of last season.

He now lacked confidence and didn’t possess the razor sharp edge that allowed him to terrorise defences as Newcastle romped to promotion. There was clearly a problem and it has taken him some time to deal with it.

However, after being given a run in the team, there have been some good signs from Gayle and he could be ready to finish the season strongly. It couldn’t come at a better time for Newcastle with the bottom of the Premier League table is tight. Now, every point is valuable in battling against relegation.

Against Manchester United, he played his part in an important victory. It wasn’t an easy game to lead the line, with Newcastle possession at a minimum, but Gayle worked hard and contributed when he could.

He got the important assist for Matt Ritchie, with a lovely piece of intelligent play in the penalty area, flicking the ball into the path of the winger, and he never stopped running for the team.

He then followed that up with a classic Dwight Gayle performance against Bournemouth as he got back among the scorers. The 27-year-old bagged a brace, but neither goal was anything to write home about.

The striker showed excellent awareness and movement to take up the right positions in the penalty area. Then, when the ball was alive, he was quick to react and grabbed two poachers goals.

Gayle was a constant threat, attempting five shots, and he linked up the play well with a pass success rate of 88%. He completed two key passes during the contest and made one tackle to show his work rate out of possession. It was another step in his battle to prove himself as being good enough to start for a Premier League club.

This provides Gayle with momentum heading into the run-in. Newcastle are in a good position as they battle to survive in the Premier League and they have lost only two of their last 10 league matches. However, five draws have seen them remain in touching distance of the bottom three.

They need to score more goals to earn the victories that they need and an in-form Gayle could be the answer. If he manages to fire the Magpies to safety, he will finally have proven himself as a Premier League striker.

Jake is a journalist based in the South East. He is a Newcastle United fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Newcastle United

Newcastle United playing with fire as Rafa Benitez deserves much better

With finances restricted once again, Rafael Benitez faces a difficult summer.

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Rafa Benitez
Photo: Getty Images

Newcastle United and manager Rafa Benitez find themselves in transfer limbo once again under the ownership of Mike Ashley, as the controversial boss continues to restrict finances.

The Sports Direct magnate has attracted plenty of criticism during his tenure in charge at St. James’ Park and he has found himself in the fan’s firing line once again following the recent admission from Rafael Benitez.

Former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss overachieved last season in the club’s return to the Premier League, securing a tenth-placed finish, but has received no sort of backing as a reward from Ashley – admitting he must ‘wheel and deal’ in the market.

“We have to wheel and deal, that is the way for us. And then we try to continue doing the right things. As soon as the price goes a little bit higher, I know that we cannot buy them.”

Newcastle United boss Benitez reveals restrictions on spending.

The issue for Newcastle is that it is certainly not the first time Ashley has restricted funds, particularly in Benitez’s spell in charge, and sees the owner go back on a promise he made in May – when he told Sky Sports ‘every penny generated’ would be available to the fan-favourite manager.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Thankfully, the Chronicle says Benitez will remain loyal to the Magpies despite the financial restrictions but alarm bells should be ringing around Tyneside, especially after Benitez told Sky Sports he had the chance to manage Spain at the World Cup.

Benitez clearly remains highly-coveted in European football and Mike Ashley’s continued desire to play with fire leaves the Magpies in a very dangerous position. After all, if Benitez does quit what manager is going to accept a move to a club where they know they will be fighting against the odds from day one under an owner who wants to jump ship?

Newcastle have been up for sale for almost a year, which the Chronicle confirms remains the case in May, but there is no signs of progression in negotiations and optimism that a deal would be completed before Christmas last year now feels a long, long way off.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Benitez deserves credit for the work he has done in the market so far, signing Ki Sung-Yeung on a free transfer and bringing Kenedy back on-loan for the season from Chelsea, as well as landing Martin Dubravka on a permanent deal from Sparta Prague.

If he can secure bargains like that with a restricted budget, then imagine what he could achieve with respectable finances to work with.

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Chelsea

Three reasons why Kenedy can become Newcastle’s talisman next season

The 22-year-old made an instant impact when he joined on loan last season.

Liam Thomas

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Kenedy
Photo: Getty Images

Newcastle United managed to acquire Kenedy’s services for another season, after bringing the silky winger in on loan last January from Chelsea.

During his time at St. James’ Park last season, the Brazilian showed glimpses of the genius that saw Chelsea bring him into their ranks from Brazilian powerhouse Fluminense and he will, in no doubt, be an extremely effective weapon for Rafael Benitez to have at his disposal next season.

But can the 22-year-old take it up a notch and become Newcastle’s star man in the 2018/19 Premier League season?

A brilliant manager to learn from

Kenedy will again have to chance to play under Spanish tactician Rafael Benitez, a manager who’s done and won it all.

Benitez seemed to get the best out of Kenedy last season for the Magpies, and the young Brazilian won’t find many other managers around who are invested in getting the very best out of their young talents.

He had a huge impact playing just half the season for Newcastle

When Kenedy arrived on Tyneside in January, Benitez’ team were struggling, and in a rut of bad form, the Brazilian played his part in turning the clubs fortunes around and helped his new side to a top half finish.

It is a mouthwatering prospect to think for Newcastle fans what Kenedy will achieve with the club given a full season with them, and now he has fully settled into life in the city, he may be able to make an even bigger impact next season.

Young, ambitious and highly rated

At 22 years of age, Kenedy is poised to have the best season of his career so far and his energetic style of play bodes well for Newcastle next season.

You only have to look back as far as April to see the kind of teams interested in taking Kenedy into their ranks for the new season. Sky Sports reported that Bayern Munich and PSG were considering launching bids for the winger; a testament to how highly rated he is.

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Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace fans should praise Roy Hodgson’s defiant Andros Townsend comments

The winger has been attracting interest from Premier League rivals.

Max Cohen

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Andros Townsend
Photo: Getty Images

In early July, Sky Sports reported Newcastle United were in talks with Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend over a return to St. James’ Park.

Yet, Roy Hodgson’s defiant comments have quashed those rumours and will be greeted by Palace fans as a strong signal to other clubs who have aimed to buy the Eagles’ best players.

Speaking in a press conference (h/t football.london) over the weekend, the Palace manager made it clear he had no intention of selling his key squad members.

“[Townsend] has got three years on his contract, and we have no interest at all in selling Andros Townsend. We are not a selling club at the moment, far from it.

“We are working very hard to keep the players we have got, and players of big importance, and Zaha and Townsend are right up there as players we want to keep.”

(Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Hodgson deserves praise for this strong stance, as he is sending a clear signal to rival clubs who aim to pinch settled players.

Townsend was crucial to the club’s resurgence last season under Roy Hodgson, and after Bakary Sako’s departure, the need to hold on to attackers is even more important.

By rebutting the advances of Newcastle and clubs interested in Wilfried Zaha, Hodgson not only boosts the confidence of the fans, but also the Palace players.

Knowing that your club aims to hold on to your fellow teammates means the side will be better and more exciting to play for.

Hodgson has already saved Crystal Palace from relegation, and now his stewardship can lead the club to the top half of the Premier League by keeping hold of the Eagles’ star performers.

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