A rejuvenated-looking Newcastle made a brilliant start to their pre-season campaign this afternoon, brushing aside a weakened Bohemian side in Richmond Park 6-0.
New signings Dwight Gayle, Matz Sels, Matt Ritchie, Isaac Hayden and Jesus Gamez all featured in front of what was a large crowd on a sunny afternoon in Dublin.
First-half XI: Sels, Sterry, Lascelles (C), Mbemba, Anita, Saivet, Colback, Ritchie, Gouffran, Aarons, Mitrovic.
United started strong and looked eager to get on the scoresheet right from the off, and it took just 15 minutes for them to do that.
Chancel Mbemba went on one of his usual striving runs through the heart of the midfield before playing in Jamie Sterry down the line, and the youngster pulled the ball back for Matt Ritchie who nestled the ball into the top-left corner with wonderful technique.
Sterry and Ritchie became a formidable partnership down the right as the game went on, with both players looking eager to impress Rafa Benitez.
Not long after going 1-0 up, Aleksandar Mitrovic pounced on a poor defensive pass and managed to nick the ball before Bohs’ keeper, winning a penalty in the process.
The popular Serb calmly sent the keeper the wrong way, putting the Magpies 2-0 up, much to the delight of some Newcastle fans who chanted his name for the whole first-half.
One player who particularly impressed me during the match was Henri Saivet, Newcastle’s forgotten man who arrived from Bordeaux in January for £4.5m.
The Senegalese midfielder read the game excellently and worked extremely hard to win the ball back when it was at the feet of the opposition. He displayed great tenacity and sprayed passes all over the compact pitch throughout.
Newcastle went into the break two goals to the good, as Bohs continued to look exhausted and outmuscled.
Star players from the first-half: Sterry, Anita, Saivet, Ritchie and Aarons.
Second-half XI: Darlow, Janmaat, Lascelles (C), Hayden, Anita, Saivet, Shelvey, Thauvin, Ayoze, Aarons, Gayle.
The Magpies returned to the pitch to a great roar from travelling fans, with Benitez making seven changes from the side that played in the first-half.
Newcastle desperately needed a ruthless goalscorer last season and if Dwight Gayle had arrived instead of Seydou Doumbia, perhaps they would have survived relegation.
The former Crystal Palace frontman came on for the second-half and made an instant impact.
Florian Thauvin’s over-hit corner found captain Lascelles at the back post, and the 22-year-old managed to find Gayle who acrobatically scored his first United goal.
Two minutes later and Newcastle extended their lead to 4-0.
Gayle nodded on to the dangerous Aarons who burst forward and found Florian Thauvin with a brilliant low cross, and the wantaway winger tapped the ball home.
Rolando Aarons gave Bohemians full-back Dylan Hayes a torrid time down the left-flank throughout the entire game, and the England U20 international got his deserved goal near the hour mark.
Picking up the ball from Vurnon Anita, Aarons then beat two opposition players with sublime skill and technique before playing a one-two with Gayle and coolly slotting the ball into the back of the net.
Later in the second-half, Jesus Gamez came on to make his debut for United and the in-form Magpies took advantage of Bohs’ fatigue.
A driven pass was played into Ayoze Perez who deftly layed off the ball to Gini Wijnaldum, who made it 6-0, much to the surprise of many Toon fans, who chanted “he scored away, he scored away, Gini Wijnaldum, he scored away.”
United had plenty of chances to extend their lead but hesitant decision-making in the final third, as well as some good saves by Shane Supple, meant the game finished 6-0.
Star players from the second-half: Janmaat, Lascelles, Shelvey, Thauvin and Gayle.
Rafa Benitez will be happy with how his side played. Togetherness, commitment and communication could be seen in abundance.
Pre-season is all about improving your fitness and trying to impress the manager, and some Newcastle players did just that today, albeit against weak opposition.
Jonjo Shelvey looked a shadow of the player who struggled to last 90 minutes and rarely pressed the ball last season. He relentlessly chased down loose balls and had no problem getting back to help out United’s back four.
Jamaal Lascelles wore the captain’s armband with pride, something we haven’t seen at Newcastle in years. It was as if the armband actually meant something for once.
Supposed wantaway stars Florian Thauvin, Daryl Janmaat and Gini Wijnaldum all played well during their time on the pitch but it was Rafa’s summer recruits who stood out most.
Ritchie and Gayle gave superb performances, Sels looked comfortable in goal, Hayden was solid beside his captain and Gamez’ positional sense was also to be admired.
At the end of the day, the results of pre-season games aren’t all that important, however, seeing United slump to an embarrassing defeat against Portland Timbers B last season set us on a road to disaster, so it’s nice to start off on a positive note this time around.