Newcastle moved five points clear at the top of the Championship after a well-deserved 2-0 victory over play-off hopefuls Leeds United on Sunday afternoon.
In front a packed out Elland Road, Newcastle looked to ruin Leeds United’s plan to stretch their five game unbeaten run.
In the early stages of the game, Newcastle took control and looked the better team with the Magpies’ star man Jonjo Shelvey looking dominant in the middle of the park.
It didn’t take long for Newcastle to go one up on Leeds. Number 9, Dwight Gayle broke the deadlock to make it 1-0 after a Rob Green mistake on the goal line caused the former England number one to fumble in to the path of Gayle, who was there to tap home 23 minutes into the game.
It was very much one way traffic after that, and United continued to pile on the pressure in an attempt to snatch the all-important second goal. Winger Yoan Gouffran came close with a good effort from the edge of the box, which ended up going wide of the Leeds goal.
The Whites managed to take control late in the first-half, it was nail biting stuff for Newcastle but they managed to absorb the pressure well. The teams went into the second half with Newcastle leading 1-0.
When both teams returned to the field, it looked even, with both sides having equal amounts of chances. However, it didn’t take long for Newcastle’s top scorer Dwight Gayle to grab his second, after a beautifully crafted goal which left every Newcastle fan watching in awe. A clever one two between Anita and Perez created space for the diminutive Dutchman to slide an inch-perfect ball in for Gayle tap home for his second goal of the day.
After the second goal, Leeds looked to bounce back, and the Whites created some good chances, however, they were unable to beat Magpies’ stopper Karl Darlow, who made a string of smart stops.
Ultimately, Newcastle were able to hold on and see out a difficult game to grab a vital three points that extends their winning run to nine games in all competitions and stretches their lead to five points at the summit of the Championship table.
Below, I rate and analyse each United player who featured against Leeds.
Karl Darlow – 8
Darlow managed to keep a clean sheet and he was forced to make some crucial saves.
His relaxed attitude seemed to calm down the United defence and he looked to grow in confidence as the game went on.
He continues to show Benitez and all Newcastle fans why he should be the club’s first choice for the foreseeable future.
Vurnon Anita -8
Vurnon Anita provided a great assist for Newcastle’s second goal of the day. He looked confident controlling that right flank for Newcastle.
The former Ajax man looked to get forward and he was often ahead of right midfielder, Matt Ritchie.
The right back easily looked like one of the best players on the pitch and he would have certainly been one of the names that were looked at when picking man of the match. If Vurnon continues to provide these consistent performances, he will be challenging with US international DeAndre Yedlin for the right back position.
Jamaal Lascelles – 8
Newcastle’s captain, Jamaal Lascelles provided a solid and sturdy performance at the back for United.
The skipper didn’t give in form Leeds striker Chris Wood a minutes rest. He won almost every header against the New Zealand international.
Lascelles was barking orders at his Newcastle team mates, something United have been lacking for a couple of years. He looks to be growing into a good professional and he is starting to iron out the few mistakes he makes.
An impressive performance from the young English defender.
Ciaran Clark – 8
A commanding performance from the Irish international barely giving the Leeds United strikers an inch of space.
Defensively, he looked sound, cutting out most crosses from Leeds. He also went on some searching runs which resulted into chances for United to increase their lead.
Clark has been a key player for United’s success in the recent games.
Paul Dummett – 7
Dummett managed Leeds United’s winger Kemar Roofe superbly with the winger rarely getting the better of the Welsh international.
Defensively, Dummett was very good but when he saw himself in the final attacking third he looked lost and had very few ideas. However, to his credit, Dummett did put some teasing crosses in for Gayle and Perez which almost resulted in goals.
An improved performance for the Welsh left back.
Jonjo Shelvey – 7
Shelvey was at the centre of everything in first half. He showed his class with his outstanding long balls to switch the play.
In the second half, Jonjo seemed to slow down and play in a more measured and conservative manner to help the Magpies’ preserve their lead.
A good performance by Jonjo Shelvey, but by no means his best performance this season.
Jack Colback – 8
Colback’s performance was outstanding and I think he will keep his starting place for the following fixture after his wholehearted performance against Leeds. He was arguably the best player on the pitch at certain times in the game.
He was the reason for the first goal with a long searching punt that confused Rob Green which allowed Dwight Gayle to tap home and make it 1-0.
His passing was excellent and he made some crucial interventions and tackles that eased the pressure for Benitez’s side and prevented Leeds from finding their rhythm.
Yoan Gouffran – 7
The Frenchman worked hard for his team and he displayed flashes of brilliance in the final third coming close on numerous occasions.
Gouffran was substituted for Mo Diame half way through the second half but the reborn French man can feel proud of his performance.
I would expect to see Gouffran to keep his spot in this Newcastle team vs Blackburn.
Matt Ritchie – 7
The Scottish winger has been key for Newcastle in attack so far this season but he didn’t seem to make much of an impact as an attacking force from the right wing, instead showing another side of his game to help out the Magpies’ back-four.
Ritchie tracked back superbly and showed his leadership qualities by ordering around his teammates which is always encouraging to see as a supporter.
The Scotsman will be looking to have a greater influence on proceedings when United face Blackburn Rovers this weekend.
Ayoze Perez – 8
Perez coped very well with the size of the occasion at Elland Road, looking confident on the ball and rarely losing possession.
The young Spaniard had chances to add to Newcastle’s lead and he came close to getting on the scoresheet, testing Rob Green in the Leeds goal.
After receiving criticism at the start of the season, Perez looked sharp against Leeds and he looks to be finding a semblance of form at a pivotal moment in the season.
If Perez keeps up his fantastic work ethic and consistently provides top performances for the team, he will solidify his position as Benitez’s first-choice no.10 over the coming weeks.
Dwight Gayle – 9* MOTM
Dwight Gayle put in a stunning performance, showing why he is the top goalscorer in the Championship and the hottest forward in the football league.
Gayle didn’t stop running throughout the whole game and pressured the Leeds defence constantly leading to mistakes which created chances to score for his black-and-white teammates.
He is everything Newcastle need up front, a proven goalscorer with an excellent attitude. Something we have crying out for over the past few years.
The Former Palace striker was substituted late in the second half and received a standing ovation form United’s travelling supporters. Gayle is certainly living up to his price tag so far, scoring 13 goals already this season and playing a key role in United’s ascent to the top of the table.
Mohammed Diame – 6
Diame held up the ball well and won a succession of aerial challenges to ease the pressure late into the game.
Aleksander Mitrovic – 6
Mitrovic will feel hard done by not to have started the game, and didn’t get enough time to have a telling impact on the game at Elland Road. The red-hot Serbian will definitely be looking to return to the starting XI and get on the scoresheet against relegation candidates Blackburn Rovers next week.
Isaac Hayden – 6
Hayden only played for the last five minutes but he continued to impress by looking calm and comfortable on the ball.