Late arrivals, Lejuene and Lewis: Six things you may have missed from Newcastle United 2-1 Rayo Vallecano
The Magpies World Cup-enforced break is now over following Saturday’s win against Spanish opposition.
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The visitors lie just two points shy of the Champions League places in Spain’s top tier but they found themselves two goals down to an early Sean Longstaff strike and a second-half penalty from Chris Wood. An own-goal from Magpies defender Matt Targett halved the deficit for Rayo but they never really looked like grabbing an equaliser in front of an impressive crowd of 34,956 at a chilly St James Park.
With all focus now on Tuesday’s Carabao Cup tie against Bournemouth, NewcastleWorld takes a look at some moments that may have been missed at St James Park on Saturday afternoon.
Late arrivals at the game
The opening five minutes were full of action as the La Liga side came close to grabbing an early lead when Nick Pope produced a stunning save to deny Raul de Tomas after he had latched on to a misplaced pass from Chris Wood. United reacted well to that let-off and took the lead just moments later when Sean Longstaff crashed a rising effort into the net at the Leazes End after he was found by Jacob Murphy.
However, the action-packed opening to the game was missed by some United supporters, who were still taking their seats as Longstaff took the congratulations from his Magpies team-mates after opening the scoring.
A small but vocal away following
There was a slightly subdubed atmosphere inside St James Park, which was not a surprise given the freezing cold temperatures and the fact the game was just a friendly fixture. But there was one small pocket of noise as around 50 Rayo supporters made themselves heard in the corner between the Leazes and Milburn stands.
The Rayo Ultras brandished a flag baring their ‘Bucaneros’ (Buccaneers) nickname and gave their side non-stop support throughout the game. They received apprecation from the visiting players after the full-time whistle had been blown and will now return to backing their side when the return to La Liga action with a visit to Girona on Thursday week.
A fluid formation on display
It’s safe to say Eddie Howe had somewhat limited options available to him with 16 first-team players unavailable for the game. The likes of Fabian Schar, Bruno Guimaraes and Callum Wilson are still making their way back towards full fitness after representing their countries at the World Cup Finals - but others were left out after taking part in a behind closed doors training game on Friday.
Initially set up in a 4-3-3, with Allan Saint-Maximin and Jacob Murphy supporting Chris Wood from the left and right-hand side respectively, United’s approach to their formation became somewhat fluid as the first-half continued with Saint-Maximin seeming to have a free role for large parts of the opening 45 minutes. Wood also dropped deep into midfield at times to allow the Frenchman and Murphy to break into space in central positions in the attacking third.
Saint-Maximin draws praise during and after the game
One feature of the opening half was Allan Saint-Maximin’s work-rate and that caught the attention of Eddie Howe and assistant manager Jason Tindall. The former Nice winger has often been criticised for not following the lead of his team-mates by playing a part in the high-energy, pressing game encouraged by Howe. But that could not be said on Saturday as Saint-Maximin worked hard to put the Rayo defence under pressure and force errors. His work-rated received a positive reaction from Tindall and Howe during the game, with the Magpies boss expanding on his praise during his post-match press conference.
“We are working with him on quite a few aspects of his game,” explained Howe. “I think that would be one of them. His attitude to that work has been very good, I think he is focused. I think you could see today he started the game really well. For the first 15-20 minutes I thought he was excellent and the most important thing for me was in the latter stages of the game he was still working and running and playing for the team. So it’s positive signs for Maxi.”
Lejeune’s popularity shines through
Former Magpies defender Florian Lejeune made his first return to Tyneside since he completed a permanent move to Alaves in June 2021. The French centre-back joined Rayo on a season-long loan during the season and received a warm reception from the minute he made his way through the doors at the St James Park players entrance.
The positivity shown towards Lejeune - who made 46 appearances during a four-year stay with United - continued when he was introduced into the action with just under 20 minutes remaining. The Rafa Benitez signing was involved in a warm exchange with Magpies boss Eddie Howe and received applause from Jacob Murphy as he made his way on to the pitch. Just moments later, Lejeune was involved in a coming together with Sean Longstaff as the former team-mates challenged for a ball at the Gallowgate End - but they laughed it off and shook hands as the visitors prepared to take a goal kick.
Young trio receive praise
Eddie Howe named a youthful looking bench made up of nine members of the Magpies Under-23s squad and goalkeeper Mark Gillespie. It was expected several youngsters may get an opportunity to impress but the United boss only opted to bring on striker Dylan Stephenson and midfield duo Jay Turner-Cooke and Lewis Miley during the second-half exchanges.
Miley is viewed as one of the brightest talents within the Magpies academy and there are high hopes for the 16-year-old, who received roars of approval and applause from Howe and Tindall when he joined his fellow youngsters in pressing Rayo’s Santi Comesana into surrendering possession right in front of the home dugout as injury-time approached at St James Park.