A fabulous Arron Mooy goal illuminated an otherwise scrappy game of few chances, giving Town a deserved and important victory over a resilient though largely mundane Newcastle side.
The Australian, who rarely seems short of time or space, added phenomenal work rate to his more obvious talents – at one point popping up in the right back position to thwart a Geordie thrust – and his surgical opening up of an efficient and solid visiting defence proved the difference.
As he moved forward with calculating menace, defenders became immobile waiting for him to unleash a long range effort which allowed him to feint, play the ball through to Kachunga then curl in the return ball past Elliot.
His imperious performance was matched by a sublime display by Schindler who dominated in the air while purring through a ground game which was near perfect. Always available, aware and commanding, his fellow defenders responded appropriately and while Newcastle had some half chances, a second consecutive clean sheet was fully deserved.
Lössl, who was only called upon sporadically, was faultless, and his magnificent save from Ritchie in a first half where the Magpies were the slightly more dangerous side, proved crucial – an easier save in the second half was smartly executed and his distribution continues to be an effective weapon, allowing Town to vary their style from playing the ball out from the back.
A full house contributed massively to Town’s win – even when the game became tense in the final 15 minutes as Newcastle searched in vain for an equaliser, the atmosphere didn’t dip with all four sides urging their Premier League fledglings to victory, and the unity between fans and the team was loudly emphasised.
Carrying on from their opening day triumph at Selhurst Park, Town again combined fierce aggression with high intensity to quell the natural talents in their opponents’ ranks. Dominating the first 25 minutes, Town’s possession was patient but occasionally laboured as the visitors – like last season – were content to allow the home side control in unthreatening areas, leaving numbers to defend any breakthrough.
A snapshot by Ince following a Geordie error flew straight at Elliot and despite having some success down the left with Van La Parra and the quite excellent Löwe, the end product was lacking with Mounié well shackled.
The dominance faded as the half went on though Newcastle’s increasing influence yielded no opportunities of note for the visitors as both defences remained firmly in command and the contest became increasingly physical.
Gayle, so regularly a scorer against Town, was easily subdued which may have provoked his attempt to win a penalty by theatrically going down under an excellent Schindler tackle – simulation which, arguably, should have been punished.
At the other end, Kachunga exchanged errors on the halfway line with a Newcastle player and found himself with a direct route to goal with Mounié and Van La Parra either side of him and a back pedalling defence outnumbered. Unfortunately, his pass to Mounié was fractionally too late and the danger cleared for a corner.
While the first half was devoid of much good play, the contest was absorbing with battles being fought hard all over the pitch in front of a raucous crowd eager for the home side to unpick the stubborn rearguard of the visitors.
They didn’t have to wait long for Mooy’s moment of inspiration before the second half reverted to the prosaic pattern of the first as Town worked hard to maintain their lead. Rafa Benitez made changes to try to revert his conservative approach and, in fairness, new signing Joselu was a little more effective than the replaced Gayle. Unfortunately for the Magpies, Town’s central defensive partnership (Zanka improved markedly after a nervous first half undermined by poor distribution forward) remained dominant.
Joselu brought a routine save from Lössl in a rare moment of freedom but as the game entered its closing stages, the visitors became more and more rudimentary in their approach which, combined with Town’s natural aggression, saw bookings mount up though some of them – on both sides – were harsh.
A feature of last year’s success was Town’s ability to see out single goal victories, and that experience in a game which bore a lot of resemblance to a Championship fixture was invaluable.
Tension built among the crowd willing on the Terriers to a second Premier League win, but Newcastle’s desperation rarely translated in to guile with their best chance being thwarted by a great block by Löwe to crown a fantastic afternoon for the full back.
While the achievement was more thrilling than the execution, back to back wins give Wagner and the team an excellent foundation for a tough season. The fixture list has been kind to throw up two opponents with inherent problems but Town have taken full advantage and imposed their unity and strength on likely bottom half rivals to boost confidence for greater challenges to come.
If one thing is certain, Wagner’s men will be no pushovers for any team and, home or away, the enormous goodwill earned from supporters can continue to be leveraged – the crowd played a full part in the defeat of Newcastle and is now rewarded with the sight of Town in second place in the nascent league table.
A more expansive Southampton are up next which should produce better entertainment, but few left the ground complaining about quality in this one, we were too busy feeling the width.