Newcastle United 4-1 Reading
Hayden (20′), McCleary (45′pen)
Gayle (69′, 89′)
Following the embarrassment of Fulham and Huddersfield, I wasn’t surprised to see Rafa Benitez ring the changes ahead of the visit of Reading to SJP on Wednesday night. However, eyebrows were raised when Paul Dummett was given the armband in place of Jamaal Lascelles, Yoan Gouffran was given a starting berth down the left and Daryl Janmaat missed out in favour of Vurnon Anita. Yet, you couldn’t argue with the decision to bring in Matt Ritchie on the right and Ayoze Perez in the number 10 role.
With a 4-4-1-1 setup, a change from the predictable 4-2-3-1 Rafa often opts for, the Hayden-Shelvey partnership looked more secure and less susceptible to the counter attack; something which caught them out against Huddersfield.
After a bright start, we were straight off our feet in the Gallowgate as Dwight Gayle bundled in a smart ball from Ayoze Perez. Yet Jaap Stam’s Reading rightly surrounded the linesman and referee protesting that Gayle had used his arm to score. The goal was chalked off but that didn’t hold up a head of steam that Newcastle were starting to build up.
Newcastle did find the much-needed goal on the 20 minute mark as Isaac Hayden calmly slotted home a loose ball in the box. A first in black and white for the former Hull loanee acquired from Arsenal over the summer.
Reading came out of their shell as the half progressed. A flowing passing move was nearly capped off in fine style, but fortunately for the Toon Roy Beerens’ effort crashed into the crossbar with Matz Sels beaten. The signs were there though and Reading soon had an equaliser. Debutant Ciaran Clark’s reckless lunge on John Swift gave the Royals the chance to equalise from the spot. Garath McCleary duly obliged.
The often criticised Yoan Gouffran was at the centre of things as Newcastle took the lead shortly after the break. The diminutive Frenchman was bundled over carelessly inside the six yard box. After Gayle’s miss from the spot on Saturday Matt Ritchie stepped up and tucked it away nicely for his first of the season. Gayle would have his moment from a setpiece 20 minutes later however. He expertly curled a free kick past Ali Al Habsi to give us a bit of breathing space.
Both sides rung the changes in the final stages of the game. Reading rarely looked like troubling our 3-1 lead as Rafa shut up shop bringing on Jack Colback and Jamaal Lascelles in place of forward thinking players.
Gayle had a second prior to stoppage time as he peeled off at the backpost for an easy tap-in from Isaac Hayden’s deflected cross. A good night for Gayle who looks like the man who can be our 20-25 goal striker in the bid for promotion.
4-1 was probably slightly harsh on Reading. But this was an improved performance after defeats against Fulham and Huddersfield. Saturday’s trip down to an in-form Bristol City will be a stern test as we look to build up some momentum before we host Brighton at SJP next Saturday evening.