Steve McClaren plans to build the Newcastle team around Aleksandar Mitrovic after he impressed on his return from suspension against Chelsea.
Mitrovic returned to the Newcastle starting line-up after a three-game ban for stamping on Arsenal’s Francis Coquelin, and the 21-year-old produced a fine centre-forward’s performance to help the hosts into a 2-0 lead courtesy of goals from Ayoze Perez and Georginio Wijnaldum.
Substitutes Ramires and Willian scored late goals to earn Chelsea a 2-2 draw, but McClaren preferred to focus on the positives, in particular the performance of Mitrovic.
“We have missed him,” McClaren said.
“The way we want to play we need a damn good centre-forward. He showed what he brings in terms of being a team player.
“We can build a team around him. I think he has learnt a lot (following his red card). He’s going to be a good player.”
Speaking to Sky Sports, McClaren suggested that too much had been read into Newcastle’s poor results in the absence of their £12.5million summer signing.
“People tend to overreact. People forget we’ve missed Mitrovic for three matches,” McClaren said.
“We didn’t have a centre forward because Papiss Cisse was injured and Ivan Toney is still a young boy. You need that target man to play off and we’ve not really had that.
“We’ve tried to play through but it’s not been successful whereas today we had a target. Mitrovic was a constant thorn in the side of Chelsea’s back four.”
Benchmark for Newcastle
Although McClaren was understandably disappointed to have missed out on his first Premier League win as Newcastle manager, he was pleased with their overall performance against the champions.
McClaren said: “It’s difficult to know what to think after that, and then you have got to try to come back down and put it into some kind of perspective, and that’s what we must do, put it in perspective in terms of performance, in terms of reaction and in terms of what we have got.
“What you got was a collective togetherness, which we talked about a lot, and that wasn’t just the players and the dressing room and the staff, that was the supporters because after this week, the supporters could have just waited and seen what was going to happen.
“But they didn’t, they responded from the first whistle and that’s what’s unique about this football club, this set of fans, and the players responded and gave a performance which was more like what we want – attitude, character, organised, really disciplined and courage to play, and we played some good football.
“In the end, we could have won it; in the end, we could have lost it. With five or six minutes to go, the momentum had swung and to hang on in there.
“Yes, it was a good display, but that’s the benchmark now, that’s the standard.”