Newcastle must unleash this player against Birmingham and beyond
COMMENT By Matt Farr
One of Newcastle’s main strengths this season has been their ability to score goals.
Yet while they don’t lead the Championship table, they lead the way on goals scored, having netted an impressive 48 times from 25 league games.
A 6-0 thrashing of Queens Park Rangers back in September remains a fine example of Newcastle’s goalscoring potential, while they have scored three or more goals in a single game on eight occasions this season.
Much of that fruitfulness in front of goal is testament to the hard work of striker Dwight Gayle, who leads the way in the Championship with 19 goals from just 21 games.
The performances of the former Crystal Palace man has made him the undisputed leader of the line for Newcastle this season, yet despite increased competition from the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Daryl Murphy, Rafa Benitez has had little reason to part with his premier goalscorer.
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However, in a bid to keep his players fresh for their league campaign, Benitez made a host of changes to his side to face Birmingham in the FA Cup on Saturday, including a rare opportunity for Mitrovic and Murphy.
Republic of Ireland international Murphy made an immediate impact, scoring just five minutes into the game, and making an excellent account of himself in a bid to land more regular first-team football.
His chance may finally arrive in the coming weeks, with Mitrovic suffering a potentially long-term injury in the midst of Murphy’s opening goal.
For much of the season, Benitez has deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation, but chose to go with two strikers against Birmingham, and despite not winning the game, it paid off.
The tactical switch proves also that Benitez does not necessarily have to axe Dwight Gayle to accommodate a starting role for Murphy.
With a bit of work, the two could form a formidable partnership together over the remainder of the season.
Murphy is not exactly short of goalscoring pedigree either. For years, he was Ipswich’s best player, netting 73 goals from 239 appearances with the club.
The 2014-15 campaign was a particularly prolific return, where he scored 27 goals from 44 league games. If Newcastle want to win the Championship title, then they should look no further than a man that has already proven himself countless times at that level.
His all-round game is also an advantage. Despite his advancing years, he works tirelessly, and was constantly running against Birmingham, holding up the ball well, and was effective in the air.
Even with Gayle likely to return against Birmingham in the league next time out, Benitez could – and should – persist with the 33-year-old up-front.
In other Newcastle news, the Magpies have entered the race to sign this 37-time capped international.