Newcastle United have climbed up to 11th in the Premier League table after seeing off Sheffield United 2-0 at Bramall Lane this evening.
The Magpies came to South Yorkshire with a clear gameplan and executed it to a T, with goals from Allan Saint-Maximin and Jonjo Shelvey separating the sides.
Sheff Utd knocked on the door and asked questions, but the travelling side were equal to their efforts and held out for three vital points.
It was a defiant performance from Steve Bruce’s men, but who were the winners and losers from this Premier League encounter?
Winner: Allan Saint-Maximin
When Newcastle splashed out £16.5m on Saint-Maximin during the summer window, the Toon Army thought they were getting their hands on an incisive and technically-gifted footballer, not the aerial monster who showed up at Bramall Lane this evening.
The Frenchman is certainly lighting quick, direct and exceptionally skilful, but against one of English football’s more robust and physically imposing sides, Saint-Maximin showed he has another string to his bow, adding to his already impressive repertoire.
Allan Saint-Maximin has scored his first ever Premier League goal for Newcastle.
A headed goal from a cross…the Andy Carroll effect. https://t.co/a8awLj9yXB
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 5, 2019
If someone told you just before kickoff that Newcastle would break the deadlock courtesy of a bullet header, you would have put your house on Andy Carroll being the player to score it, but it was the 5ft8 in winger who out-jumped and outmuscled Chris Basham to guide the ball beyond Dean Henderson.
This was the 22-year-old’s first goal in the famous black and white strip of Newcastle. Steve Bruce will now be hoping the seal has been broken and his summer recruit can go on to become a more prominent force in front of goal.
Loser: Billy Sharp
The Sheffield United skipper started his first game of the season but proved largely ineffective during his time on the pitch and unable to add to the one goal he has so far scored, which came during the Blades’ curtain-raiser against Bournemouth back in August.
Wilder opted to shuffle the pack for this match, in terms of his strikeforce, benching both the in-form Lys Mousset and workhorse David McGoldrick, but the system tweak ultimately left a lot to be desired as Newcastle sat back and Sharp was unable to penetrate.
The Sheffield stalwart seldom threatened Dubravka’s goal and was ultimately withdrawn on the hour mark for the aforementioned Mousset. At 33, Wilder certainly won’t expect Sharp to lead the line on a consistent basis, but if the local marksman has aspirations of supplanting those in front of him, he will have to show much more devastation in the final third than tonight.
Winner: Martin Dubravka
The Slovakian shot-stopper was simply on another planet this evening, making save after save as Sheff Utd tried to find an opening. The 30-year-old has a penchant for producing world-class performances of this level every once in a while, and fortunately for Bruce tonight was one of those nights.
His reflexes were imperious, diving exceptional and dexterity on point. When Sheff Utd were able to find openings in Newcastle’s watertight defence, Dubravka was there to relieve the danger and keep his side in the game.
He recently put pen-to-paper on a long-term deal at St. James’ Park, and if performances tonight are anything to go by, the Magpies have an elite level gloveman for many years to come.
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Loser: Chris Wilder
Wilder is a manager who has forged a reputation this season for his consistency. The English tactician has scarcely deviated from the same personnel and seems almost allergic to deploying any other tactical theory bar his revolutionary overlapping centre-back system. Indeed Wilder has flourished this season because of that consistency, so his decision to rest Mousset and McGoldrick, despite the busy festive schedule, seemed almost counterproductive.
Both players have proven important cogs in his well-oiled and well-drilled system, with the former currently in red hot form having scored five Premier League goals in five starts for the Blades, so against a side that were always likely to sit back and suffocate Sheff Utd’s frontline, he needed forwards who could create openings and stretch Newcastle’s back five.
Instead he played right into Bruce’s hands, deploying Oli McBurnie, who lacks the requisite movement to really unsettle backlines, and Sharp, a player very much in the twilight years of his career. He may certainly have had one eye on Sunday’s fixture against Norwich, but tonight his tactical rejig backfired.
Winner: Andy Carroll
The towering target man made his first league start tonight since returning to his boyhood club, in place of Joelinton, and what an impact he had on the outcome of this match. It was an exceptionally difficult night for Carroll with Newcastle sitting back and inviting pressure, but he performed his defensive duties with grit and put in a shift up-top.
Indeed Carroll has that mystical ability to unsettle defenders just with his mere presence alone. As Newcastle whipped the odd ball into the box, there always seemed to be a sense of uncertainty among the Sheff Utd defenders as Carroll came storming in or simply made his presence known, which may explain why Saint-Maximin was able to net a header of his own.
And Bruce’s decision to field the more physical and less mobile Carroll over their club-record signing eventually paid dividends as Carroll rose highest to glance on a header for Shelvey, who ran through clean on goal to net Newcastle’s second – it was a trademark flick from the Gateshead striker.
Loser: Sheff Utd defence
The one thing every aspiring footballer is told during their childhood is to play to the whistle, but that old adage seemed to fall on deaf ears when Shelvey was played through for Newcastle’s second.
As Carroll rose to knock on an upfield ball in the 70th minute, Shelvey got on the end of it and found himself in ample space, as well as clean through on goal. However, the linesman waved his flag and the whole stadium seemed to stand still – apart from Shelvey.
The midfield marvel continued his run, unchallenged from the Sheff Utd defence who failed to track back, while even Henderson seemed to hesitate and put up a half-hearted attempt to block Shelvey’s shot.
As Shelvey eventually knocked home, few on the Bramall Lane terraces seemed moved, instead expecting their side to take a free-kick for offside and get on with the game. But, VAR ultimately proved that Carroll was in fact onside and the goal was perfectly legal.