Newcastle preview/pub guide: Magpies in town for much-moved fixture
Newcastle United come to Griffin Park on Saturday, now that the farce of the date has finally been sorted out, second in the Championship table having lost top spot to Brighton over Christmas.
The Magpies lost two of their three festive fixtures 1-0 – at home to Sheffield Wednesday and then at Blackburn, who completed an unlikely double over them, meaning they trail the Seagulls by two points having played one more match.
Those defeats are two of only seven suffered by Rafael Benitez’s side in the Championship this season, two more of which were in the first two matches of the campaign at Fulham (0-1) and at home to Huddersfield (1-2).
Apart from losing 2-1 against Wolves in September, their only other defeats also came in consecutive matches – this time as November turned into December with that initial 1-0 loss to Blackburn followed by a 2-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest.
For the majority of the season however, Newcastle have been the team to catch.
They topped the table for 11 weeks from the mid-October night when they won 2-0 at Barnsley until the start of January.
The Oakwell victory was in the middle of a sequence of eight successive three-pointers, including their 3-1 defeat of us, and earlier in the season they also won five in a row, one of which was the 6-0 victory at QPR.
Their matches usually end with some sort of positive conclusion – they have only drawn one of their 25 Championship fixtures, which was 1-1 at Aston Villa in September.
One reason for Newcastle’s success was the decision of Rafael Benitez to stay on as manager. The Champions League winner kept the majority of his squad together and added to it with key signings like Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie.
Former Crystal Palace frontman Gayle is the Championship’s top scorer so far this season and averages a goal per match, with 19 in 20 full and one substitute appearance – that’s an average of 91 minutes per strike.
Their overall goalscoring record is a bit like ours with Scott Hogan, as in the Magpies’ case, nobody else has scored more than four.
They also have no ever-presents in the league, although six players have started 20 or more times.
Newcastle have spent 22 of the past 25 seasons in the Premier League. They were in Division One with us during its first campaign, but since then have only dropped back down to this level for 2009/10 and this season.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Rafael Benitez has enjoyed a distinguished managerial career so far at some of Europe’s top clubs – and will always be remembered in this country for leading Liverpool to their famous Champions League final win in 2005 – when they came back from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan on penalties.
Benitez’s Liverpool were runners-up in the final two years later, while he also won the FA Cup and finished in the second in the Premier League during his time at Anfield.
He has also managed Chelsea – leading them to the Europa League title in 2013 – and has had spells in charge of Valencia, Inter Milan, Napoli and Real Madrid, winning a string of trophies along the way.
There were fears he would leave Newcastle last summer because of a break clause in his contract, but instead he decided to stay on, signing a new three-year deal and saying: “The love I could feel from the fans was a big influence for me.”
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Newcastle and Brentford have hardly met at all over the years and Saturday’s game will be only their fourth-ever league visit to Griffin Park.
Our game at St James’ Park in October was a good day off the pitch but a disappointing one off it as we let in two early goals on the way to a 3-1 defeat.
Ciaran Clark and Dwight Gayle put the Magpies in charge by the 16th minute and Gayle made it 3-0 soon after the break, before Scott Hogan quickly pulled one back from a corner.
Newcastle’s last league visit to Griffin Park was also in this division (then known as Division One) on a Sunday afternoon in October 1992 and was live on ITV, with Brian Moore commentating.
David Kelly put Kevin Keegan’s Magpies ahead in the first half and Gavin Peacock doubled the lead after the break before in a grandstand finish, Gary Blissett halved the deficit and then Marcus Gayle, now part of the Bees Player commentary team, missed a great chance to snatch a point.
We first met in the old Second Division (now Championship) in 1934/35 and we did the double over the Magpies on our way to winning the title with a 5-2 win at St James’ Park and a 3-0 triumph at Griffin Park – and our paths crossed in the same division again in 1947/48 with each match ending in a 1-0 home win.
Newcastle had won an FA Cup tie 2-0 in TW8 in the season before World War Two and also beat us in the Cup in the north-east in 1954/55.
And that was it until the match in the above video in 1992. We lost 5-1 in the return at St James’ Park as the Magpies took another huge step towards the title and we were also beaten 4-1, after extra-time, in a League Cup tie there in 2001 on the day after September 11.
Matthew Raisbeck, Newcastle United commentator at BBC Newcastle analyses the Magpies’ season so far, recalls a trip to Griffin Park to cover a different north-east team and shares the views of someone close to Scott Hogan on our centre-forward’s future.
Q – How would you assess Newcastle’s season so far – as expected or better than expected?
A – When it comes to Newcastle United, you just never know what is going to happen! They have a propensity for crisis, but, fortunately, they also have one of the best managers around, someone whose record speaks for itself and who has the respect of everyone at the club and is adored by the supporters.
Without Rafa Benitez in charge, I really don’t know if they would be capable of mounting a title challenge but, although the team is on a run of four defeats in eight, there is still full confidence in his ability to win promotion back to the Premier League – and that is the only thing that matters this season.
There have been some outstanding results and performances, as well as some disappointments, but the likes of Dwight Gayle and Jonjo Shelvey have been a delight to watch, and I would also pick out defender Ciaran Clark as someone who has played very well all season without always getting the credit he deserves.
Q – Would anything other than automatic promotion be good enough for the club and the fans? Does it have to be the title or is going up without having to resort to the play-offs enough?
A – The fans just want to see the team win promotion and most couldn’t care less if they finished second behind Brighton, where they are at the minute, rather than winning the title. I am not so sure they would feel too confident heading into the play-offs (does anybody?) but I don’t think it will come to that, given the lead they have over third-placed Reading.
A lot of money was invested in the team over the summer but they actually made a profit of around £30m thanks to the sale of Moussa Sissoko to Tottenham Hotspur on deadline day, so there is money for the manager to spend this month.
Q – What impact has Jonjo Shelvey’s ban had on the team? He ran the show in our game at St James’ Park in October
A –Dwight Gayle has scored 19 goals, but Newcastle’s most influential player this season has been Jonjo Shelvey – and boy, have they missed him. They have won only one of the four matches he has sat out because of suspension and the team’s performances overall in that time have not been variable.
Nobody else at the club can do what Shelvey does: he pulls the strings from deep in midfield with an outstanding range of passing and is so comfortable in this league he appears to stroll through games.
And, as you saw in October, he can also put chances on a plate for other players. Jack Colback and Isaac Hayden, who’ll almost certainly play in central midfield on Saturday, are good players but neither can make the difference like Shelvey.
Q – How has Newcastle’s form been at St James’ Park this season?
A – Interestingly, while they have blown some teams away, they actually have lost four times at home already. In their last Championship campaign, which was 2009/10, they were unbeaten on Tyneside and tasted defeat on only four occasions in total.
They have the best away record in the league but must address some of their home performances in the second half of the season. Generally speaking, if they score early (and they did twice against Brentford), they are fine. But, the longer it stays goalless, visiting teams, sense the nervousness in the crowd and players and make their move.
Q – Have you worked at a game at Brentford before or been to Griffin Park as a spectator and if so what memories do you have?
A – Yes! I commentated on the FA Cup first round replay between Brentford and Gateshead in November 2009. You won 5-2 and Gateshead, who were a part-time club at that stage, were never really in it.
But, taking a club like Brentford to a replay was very meaningful for them. I followed them for a number of years before taking over as Newcastle United commentator last November and the game at Griffin Park was one of the highlights.
Interestingly, Scott Hogan’s brother, Liam, is currently captain of Gateshead. I spoke to Liam this week about the speculation surrounding Scott – the clip is embedded below:
Q – How much of an impact has the late change back of the fixture had on the club and the fans?
A – The game reverting to Saturday has forced the fans to change their plans again although I don’t think Rafa Benitez will be too bothered, though he will have wanted to avoid an FA Cup replay against Birmingham.
Q – With Scott Hogan potentially not involved, which other Bees players will you be wary of?
A – The player we would have wanted to see is Alan Judge, who was interesting Newcastle in the summer and continues to be linked to them, but I know he is yet to play this season because of injury. My co-commentator, former Newcastle and Ireland right back John Anderson, watched Judge make his international bow last year.
Josh McEachran is someone who has always been highly thought of and I remember he made his second appearance for Chelsea in a League Cup tie against Newcastle in 2010. So, it will be interesting to see if he is fulfilling his potential after a number of loan spells before finally settling at Brentford.
“Every team seems to raise their game against us, but we tend to play our best football away from SJP this season.”
Read more from NUFC Index view here
Newcastle’s line-up is hard to predict as Rafael Benitez likes to shuffle his pack – but it could look something like this, with Jonjo Shelvey serving the last game of his five-match ban.
They could well play 4-2-3-1 with Karl Darlow (ex-Nottingham Forest) in goal behind a defence consisting of Dutch international Vurnon Anita (ex-Ajax) on the right, homegrown Wales international Paul Dummett on the left and captain Jamaal Lascelles and Republic of Ireland international Ciaran Clark (ex-Aston Villa) in the middle.
The defensive midfielders are likely to be Isaac Hayden (ex-Arsenal) and Jack Colback (ex-Sunderland) behind a trio of Scotland international Matt Ritchie (ex-Bournemouth), Ayoze Perez (ex-Tenerife) and Yoan Gouffran (ex-Bordeaux), although Senegal international Mohamed Diame (ex-Hull) is also in contention.
Dwight Gayle, of course, will fill the solo striker’s role.
Among the subs could be goalkeeper Matz Sels (ex-Ghent), defenders such as Morocco international Achraf Lazaar (ex-Palermo), DR Congo international Chancel Mbemba (ex-Anderlecht) and US international DeAndre Yedlin (ex-Seattle), and strikers like Serbia international Aleksandar Mitrovic (ex-Anderlecht) and Republic of Ireland internatioinal Daryl Murphy (ex-Ipswich).
Winger Christian Atsu is away at the African Cup of Nations with Ghana.
PUBS IN BRENTFORD
For Newcastle fans coming down, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming.
There are now only three pubs around the ground, following the closure of the Royal Oak.
The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal is the other option.
Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) is the Beesotted pre-match pub. This boozer & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other .. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’.
The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields (it’s a much better pub crawl route getting off at Northfields than South Ealing) before making your way down to the ground (normally stopping off at The Globe and Lord Nelson en route).
There is also a pub right by Brentford station always referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman can probably hold 15 of you at a push. The Brewery Tap is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit the brand new boozer One Over the Ait right on the river – beside the bridge. There are loads more too.
A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many many more too if you have a look around.
Parking is pretty easy away from the ground going up towards and over the A4 Great West Rd (ie. North) via Ealing Road or Windmill Road.
You can check out Transport for London’s guide for travel this weekend here.