Daryl Murphy glances home brilliantly
Daryl Murphy’s first league goal for Newcastle, in only his second appearance, sent his side back to the top of the Championship in a hard-fought win against Brentford at Griffin Park.
Dwight Gayle had put the Magpies into a first-half lead with his 20th goal of the season before going off injured.
The lively Lasse Vibe equalised for Brentford after the interval and almost put them ahead when his chip hit the post and rolled along the Newcastle goal-line.
However, Murphy’s header from a fantastic Ayoze Perez cross then sealed the win late on.
Newcastle’s return to the Championship summit came after Brighton lost 0-2 at Preston and puts them a point ahead of the Seagulls having played a game more.
Bees blown away by Gayle
Gayle wheels away after giving Newcastle the lead
Brentford have had some success of late with their 3-5-2 shape and the players seemed very comfortable going forward, although I found they lacked options wide when their wing backs were in possession, which tended to funnel attacks infield.
Although Tom Field is quite capable going at an opposition full back, I don’t feel the Brentford wing backs are enough like wingers to threaten a team like Newcastle wide, they are more natural defenders and struggle to beat someone in a one on one.
Play therefore often tends to be recycled backwards, slowing down the Brentford attacks.
Where the 3-5-2 encountered problems most though was when Brentford lost the ball.
With the wing backs high, Brentford were vulnerable to balls down the sides, with centre backs often dragged out into areas where they were less comfortable, and this was typified by the Newcastle opening goal.
Brentford lost possession in the Newcastle half and with acres of space down the outside channel due to the Bees’ wing back high, Dwight Gayle was released with Harlee Dean having to travel out into areas a full back would normally be occupying.
Gayle was given plenty of time to run one on one against Dean, who was forced to retreat into his area.
He shifted the ball onto his left foot before driving the ball past Bentley in the Brentford goal.
Against strikers of the quality of Gayle you simply cannot leave such spaces available and a more compact zonal defence may have been better, particularly when you have centre backs who prefer to defend centrally.
3-5-2 asks a lot of the Brentford midfield
Woods here can’t get close enough to block the cross that led to Murphy’s goal
There were warning signs for Brentford in the first half when Newcastle were able to switch play early enough to their wingers and full backs to create overloads and it meant in the place of wingers, Brentford’s midfield had to get across to help out in place of wingers.
The midfield trio of Nico Yennaris, Josh McEachran and Ryan Woods had their work cut out to sustain it however.
McEachran did not have the legs to keep up with the marauding Dumnett in the first half and Newcastle could have run Brentford ragged by moving the ball quicker and stretching the midfield three of Brentford, particularly McEachran.
Woods was more able to cover the ground as he has greater mobility, however, by the 79th minute Woods didn’t have the energy to close quickly enough in the move that lead to the winning goal.
I felt Newcastle could have tested Brentford more by playing Matt Ritchie and Yoan Gouffran on their natural sides, particularly when Murphy came on.
Once Gayle came off, and Murphy replaced him, the effectiveness of inverted wingers was less as Murphy thrives on crosses into the box which don’t tend to come with inverted wingers, they invariably look for threaded passes into a forward or third man runs from midfield, so with Murphy on I expected Rafael Benitez to swap them round to get more balls in the box.
The winning goal came from one such ball, with Newcastle moving the ball from the right-wing to the left-wing, with a cross being delivered with inventiveness via the outside right foot of Perez and a brilliant header by Murphy.
Nucleus of Newcastle
Newcastle were impressive through midfield and attack, with excellent delivery from set plays via Matt Ritchie, although aside from Dwight Gayle, the main threat from Newcastle were their full backs.
Welshman Dumnett, a product from the Newcastle academy was particularly impressive, and at 183cm a great size and build, whilst DeAndre Yedlin had pace to burn on the right.
As soon as the ball landed with the wingers the full backs were on their way, attacking the space left by the wingers invariably coming inside.
Manager Benitez switched to a three-man central defence when Vernan Anita was forced off injured and this was a smart tactical move to retain what they had after losing three starters to injury.
Newcastle were much weaker than when the game kicked off and with a slender lead, this change in shape seemed a good call.
Substitute Grant Hanley slotted in-between Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark as extra cover for the final stages as Brentford pushed for an equaliser.
Brentford use a block to free one of their main headers
One area of concern for manager Rafael Benitez will be their defensive set up at corners.
The Magpies bring all 11 players back, with a mix of zonal and man marking.
Brentford attempted to block goalkeeper Karl Darlow, he struggled to come for the ball, a tactic that lead to the Bees equaliser.
When Darlow did attempt to claim one delivery, he misjudged the flight and parried the ball too low which allowed Vibe to poke home.
The near post space will be a particular worry for Benitez as Brentford were able to put the ball into this area at will.
At Liverpool Benitez favoured a zonal marking system which was successful, so I wonder if he will revert to this in time.
The Magpies man marking system meant they were susceptible to being blocked off and with Woods’ outstanding delivery, Newcastle struggled to contain Brentford’s three main headers.
As the role of the near post space zone marker is a vital one, Benitez will be concerned with how Murphy defended this area once he came on.
It appears, in Benitez’s system, the near post space area is defended by his number 9 as Gayle was tasked with this role before he went off injured, and the Magpies will need to defend this area better in the games ahead.
Next up for Brentford is an away fixture against Wigan Athletic, whilst Newcastle host Rotherham United, both matches on Saturday 21st January at 15.00 GMT.
Brentford: Bentley; Egan (sub Hofmann 87 mins), Dean, Bjelland; Colin, Yennaris, Woods, McEachran (sub Jota 80 mins), Field; Sawyers (sub Clarke 90 mins); Vibe
Subs (not used): Bonham, Kerschbaumer, Barbet, Hogan
Bookings: Vibe (81 mins) (second of season)
Newcastle United: Darlow; Yedlin, Clark, Lascelles, Dummett; Colback, Hayden (sub Anita 62 mins (sub Hanley 71 mins)); Ritchie, Pérez, Gouffran; Gayle (sub Murphy 28 mins)
Subs (not used): Sels, Lazaar, Ameobi, Sterry Bookings: Dummett (31 mins)