A turning point in Newcastle’s season, the star finishing qualities of Jermain Defoe and the fall of Andros Townsend are just some of our major talking points to emerge from Sunderland’s 1-1 draw at St James’ Park.
Sunderland denied; draw a turning point for Newcastle?
With Sunderland looking on course to claim a seventh successive win against Newcastle, Rafael Benitez will be hoping the point his side clawed back will be a turning point in their season.
Although Newcastle still pose an obvious lack of a goal threat (the club are the second lowest goalscorers in the top flight this term) they’ll be invigorated by this point, if merely because it saw them end a miserable run against their closest rivals, who had seemingly had something of a curse against them at present.
Next up for Newcastle is a huge six-pointer at fellow relegation strugglers Norwich, and that game will no doubt go a long way to determine who stays up, and who faces a trip to (quite realistically) Burton Albion next season.
Benitez will be pleased with the spirit shown by his side in the final quarter of the match, and if they can reproduce that at Carrow Road, they should have enough quality to take something from their trip to East Anglia.
Only one looks likely to survive, but who will avoid relegation?
Dead-eye Defoe gives Cats no other relegation rival has
There’d have been quite a few punters smiling when Jermain Defoe expertly rifled in a volley at the end of the first half to give Sunderland the lead, such is the reliability of the striker in front of goal.
Fifteen goals so far from 27 appearances in a struggling side tells its own story and the money that Sunderland spent in bringing him back to the Premier League last January has already been paid back in spades.
Aside from his accuracy in front of goal, Defoe is a man that the Black Cats can absolutely pin their entire hopes on.
In fact, deadly Defoe gives something that no other side in the relegation shake-up can rely on – a regular source of goals.
His record this season prior to the Newcastle clash was a goal every 166 minutes played – something only Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero, Riyad Mahrez and Romelu Lukaku can better.
And compare Defoe’s record to the top goalscorers at their rivals:
Norwich – Nathan Redmond (5)
Newcastle – Georginio Wijanldum (9 – but 4 in one game)
Aston Villa – Jordan Ayew & Rudy Gestede (5)
So if Sunderland do stay up – then the former England man will have played as big a part as anyone in achieving survival.
8 – Jermain Defoe has scored eight goals in his last nine Barclays Premier League appearances away from home. Travels.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 20, 2016
Shelvey impresses, but lack of leaders still hurting Newcastle
After making his name as an attacking midfielder at Liverpool and Swansea, Jonjo Shelvey’s new deeper role at Newcastle is one which he clearly is suited to.
Sitting at the base of the United midfield, Shelvey’s ability to pick up the ball in space and dictate the play has become a feature of Newcastle’s style since the England cap’s arrival in a £12million deal in January.
In fact, such has been his impact since signing, it’s probably not too much of a stretch (as much as it is also damning of his team-mates’ displays) that Shelvey has been Newcastle’s best player this season!
If the club do go down, one suspects there wouldn’t be a shortage of takers for the player, and he’s probably one of the few Newcastle players who can escape criticism this season.
“They lack match intelligence,” was Niall Quinn’s damning assessment of Newcastle’s first-half performance against Sunderland. And while they improved in the final quarter, it’s hard not to disagree with the Sky Sports’ pundit’s assessment.
Two other players Newcastle can rely, however, are Wijaldum and Aleksander Mitrovic and it was no surprise to see those two combine to dig the hosts out of a hole for the equaliser.
Townsend gone and is a shadow of his former self
Was this really a player England were pinning so many of their hopes on just a couple of years ago?
From his falling out with a coach at Spurs, to struggling to make an impact at Newcastle, Andros Townsend has endured something of a season to forget. As good a deal as Newcastle got in signing Shelvey, the £14million they paid Spurs for winger Townsend, looks like absolute daylight robbery from a Tottenham point of view.
Fair enough, his game time has been limited since his arrival at St James’ Park, but Townsend looks increasingly like the stereotypical headless chicken, who fails to deliver when in key positions and is brushed off the ball far too easily. If his signing was meant to deliver assists, the odd goal, and a player who can stretch opposition defences, Newcastle have every right to feel let down by the investment.
A place in the England squad now looks like nothing more than a distant dream.
Khazri and Kirchhoff arrivals have lifted Sunderland
Wahbi Khazri and Jan Kirchoff. Two players few had heard of prior to their arrivals at the Stadium of Light, but a pair who are now very much mainstays in the Black Cats side.
Tunisian midfielder Khazri has especially impressed me. A player who looks hungry, works hard and is keen to link-up with the attack, he stretched Newcastle all afternoon until his withdrawal for Dame N’Doye 18 minutes from time.
Kirchoff, meanwhile, was signed as a centre-half, but has since made an impact for Allardyce operating as a deep-lying midfielder. Although Sunderland couldn’t quite keep the clean sheet they so craved on Sunday, he does offer their defence the protection it’s often lacked in the past.