Newcastle edge helter-skelter thriller to end their barren run
West Ham 2 Newcastle United 3
For a manager of Rafael Benítez's pragmatism, it is unlikely that this barmy game fitted into his vision of how football should be played. Sometimes, however, there is nothing better than winning messily and even Benítez could put his control-freakery to one side after seeing Newcastle end their long barren run.
This was their first victory in 10 matches, lifting them up three places from 18th, ensuring that they avoided spending Christmas Day in the bottom three for the first time in Premier League history. Newcastle rode their luck at times, with Rob Eliott's save from Andre Ayew's tame penalty coming at a crucial point, but they were deserving winners.
Benítez's side demonstrated their character after falling behind to Marko Arnautovic's early goal, hitting back through Henri Saivet, Mohamed Diame and Christian Atsu, and they were more fluent than West Ham, whose recent revival under David Moyes came to an end.
Meetings between teams battling against relegation can be weighed down by nerves and tension. This one, however, did not fall into that category. A lack of quality and cohesiveness had an anarchic effect, making both teams ragged, and it was impossible to complain about a shortage of excitement.
Of course, that must have been alarming for Moyes and Benítez. It is unlikely that either manager intended to preside over such an open and shapeless contest, yet they were both powerless to stop their edgy players from making individual and tactical errors.
All the two men on the touchline could do was embrace the madness that began when Saivet, making his first league start of the season, inexplicably sent a simple pass straight to Arnautovic in the sixth minute. Arnautovic had enviable space as he burst forward from the halfway line, with Ciaran Clark hopelessly exposed, and the Austrian displayed his new-found confidence by swerving to the centre-back's right before clipping a fine shot past Eliott.
Newcastle shook their heads clear and Saivet equalised four minutes later, whipping a low free-kick past a questionable West Ham wall and beyond Adrian, who was slow to react.
The chances kept coming. West Ham struggled for balance in midfield without Manuel Lanzini, who was serving the last match of his ban for diving to win a penalty in last weekend's victory over Stoke, and Newcastle could certainly feel aggrieved not to be ahead at the interval.
Deandre Yedlin was a menace for the visitors, and Matt Ritchie bent a curling shot against the post from 20 yards; the winger also created two excellent opportunities for Dwight Gayle, who crashed one against the bar before wastefully scooping the other over.
But the second goal Newcastle had been threatening arrived in the 53rd minute. Atsu skipped past Pablo Zabaleta, nutmegging the defender for good measure, and his cutback found Diame, whose finish against his former side was emphatic.
Then came a moment of controversy, Antonio latching on to a loose ball and powering towards Newcastle's area. Clark lunged to bring him down and Lee Mason initially awarded a free-kick, only to point to the spot on the advice of his assistant. Ayew's penalty, however, was lamentably casual and Elliot made a straightforward save.
The visitors then broke from a West Ham corner, slicing through a wheezing back three at will, Joselu teeing up Atsu to beat Adrian from close range.
More drama was on the way, though. Ayew atoned when he pounced after a corner caused confusion in the Newcastle area in the 69th minute. West Ham had time to rescue themselves and they subjected Newcastle to a late aerial bombardment after introducing Andy Carroll. Pedro Obiang's fierce shot flew over, though, and the noisy travelling supporters finally had something of substance to celebrate.
Sunday Indo Sport