Rafa Benitez’s men looked a completely new team to the one who were beaten by Huddersfield last week
RAFA BENITEZ was finally given something to smile about as Newcastle got their first Premier League win on the board.
The Toon boss has endured a miserable start to the season, with his side losing their opening two top-flight matches and slumping to a shock defeat to Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup.
There has also been growing tension between Benitez and owner Mike Ashley over transfers, with their relationship close to boiling point.
But life at St James’ Park will suddenly seem that bit more bearable for Benitez after Newcastle crushed West Ham.
And it is now Slaven Bilic and the Hammers who are lurching towards an early-season crisis, having lost their first three Premier League games.
Given the troubles at both clubs, it was a nervous start at St James’, with chances few and far between.
Isaac Hayden fired one shot just over from the edge of the box, while at the other end Aaron Creswell blasted over the bar when well placed.
But it was the hosts who took the lead in the 36th minute – much to the relief of Benitez and the Toon Army.
Matt Ritchie won the ball off West Ham rookie Declan Rice, before knocking it on to Mikel Merino, who threaded through Christian Atsu with a wonderfully weighted pass.
Atsu was through on goal but unselfishly played across to Joselu.
INTERACTIVE STATS – CLICK on the categories to find out how the teams fared
INTERACTIVE LINE-UPS – CLICK on the player’s number below to see their stats
And the £5million signing from Stoke just about beat the covering Hammers defenders to pass into an empty net for his first Newcastle goal.
After the break, Merino, Atsu and Ayoze Perez forced comfortable saves out of Joe Hart, who has now not kept a clean sheet since England’s World Cup qualifier win over Lithuania in March.
Then Toon stopper Rob Elliot was forced into a double save, beating away Cresswell’s drive, before thwarting Javier Hernandez’s follow-up, with Ciaran Clark mopping up the loose ball.
That, though, was just about as good as it got for the Hammers, with the Toon coming close to a second when Hart had to get a big paw on Ritchie’s drive.
And Benitez’s boys deserved their second when it came 16 minutes from time.
Ritchie again did the hard yards, winning the ball in the corner, playing a one-two with Hayden and then whipping it in for Clark, who headed home off the post.
And then sub Aleksandar Mitrovic added in a third in the 86th minute to send the Toon Army into dreamland.
Facts, stats, goals & lols
- Rafa Benitez handed Joselu his first start for Newcastle and was repaid with a goal.
- Under fire Slaven Bilic has found himself in even hotter water after losing to struggling Toon.
- There was no St James Park return for Andy Carroll. The striker – linked with a move back to Newcastle – was not even named on the bench.
- Declan Rice will NOT be watching highlights of the match after carelessly giving the ball away for Newcastle’s goal.
- Joe Hart saw Rice, 18, was beating himself up over his mistake and rushed out to console him.
- Referee Neil Swarbrick did well to ignore about 50,000 screaming Geordies calling for Javier Hernandez to be sent off. The Mexican caught Javier Manquillo while on a yellow card but a second booking would have been harsh.
- West Ham were lucky not to lose Pablo Zabaleta and Andre Ayew to injury with the defender’s head pouring with blood at one point,
- Newcastle were twice given injury scares through Matt Ritchie and Isaac Hayden but Benitez was able to breathe a sigh of relief with both men playing on.
- Benitez may not love him but the Geordies will always have a place in their hearts for Aleksandar Mitrovic, who replaced Joselu to rapturous applause.
- But the big Serb was lucky not to have been sent off after he appeared to elbow Manuel Lanzini.
Dream Team ratings
Newcastle: Elliott 6, Manquillo 6, Lascelles 6, Clark 7, Mbemba 8, Ritchie 8 (Murphy 6), Hayden 7 (Diame 6), Merino 7, Atsu 7, Perez 7, Joselu 7 (Mitrovic 7)
West Ham: Hart 6, Zabaleta 6, Collins 6, Ogbonna 5, Cresswell 5, Noble 6 (Kouyate 5), Rice 6 (Lanzini 5), Antonio 5, Fernandes 5, Ayew 6 (Sakho 5), Hernandez 6