Newcastle 1-0 Huddersfield: Ayoze Perez strikes late as Newcastle edge closer to safety
Last Updated: 31/03/18 7:59pm
Ayoze Perez struck a late winner as Newcastle edged ever closer to Premier League survival but kept Huddersfield in peril with a 1-0 win at St James' Park.
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Rafa Benitez's side - once again inspired by Jonjo Shelvey - looked in danger of paying for their profligacy as Dwight Gayle spurned a string of first-half chances.
But Perez belatedly made the breakthrough when he sparked and finished a move 10 minutes from time, converting Kenedy's calm cut-back to release home tension and further ease relegation fears.
The slender scoreline was scant reward for a dominant display but a third successive home win in the Premier League means Newcastle climb to 12th - seven points above the drop zone - at the expense of under-par visitors who remain just three points from trouble.
Newcastle: Dubravka (6), Yedlin (7), Lascelles (7), Lejeune (7), Dummett (7), Ritchie (6), Shelvey (8), Diame (7), Kenedy (7), Perez (7), Gayle (5).
Subs: Slimani (6), Hayden (6), Atsu (7).
Huddersfield: Lossl (6), Smith (6), Schindler (6), Jorgensen (6), Kongolo (6), Hogg (6), Mooy (6), van La Parra (6), Pritchard (7), Kachunga (6), Depoitre (7).
Subs: Malone (6), Quaner (7), Mounie (6).
Man of the match: Jonjo Shelvey
Benitez, who was finally able to give Islam Slimani a late cameo after injury, had admitted victory against rivals who started the afternoon just a point behind them would represent a "big step" in the survival scrap and a competitive edge in the opening stages served reminder of the cause.
Jamaal Lascelles and Aaron Mooy drew early bookings, while a Kenedy penalty appeal was waved away, but Newcastle found their groove and should have made the breakthrough when Shelvey's low drive was so nearly diverted past Jonas Lossl by Gayle on the stretch (14).
Rafa Benitez kept faith with the side that started in the 3-0 win over Southampton - but was finally able to name Islam Slimani on the bench.
Huddersfield boss David Wagner made five changes with Tommy Smith, Terence Kongolo, Rajiv van La Parra, Elias Kachunga and Laurent Depoitre handed starts.
The hosts continued to attack with zip, Matt Ritchie thwarted moments later from a tight angle, but the game's best chance came just before the half-hour mark when quick-thinking Shelvey lofted a free-kick that dropped onto Gayle's boot, his controlling touch not matched by the dink he sent wide.
Huddersfield carried only fleeting threat on the counter, Laurent Depoitre linking well with Alex Pritchard, but further chances came Gayle's way via DeAndre Yedlin before the break, one effort well over and another improvised flick rolling the wrong side of the post.
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David Wagner's side mustered their first real attempt on goal with 59 minutes gone as Depoitre drilled off-target and a goalmouth scramble on 65 was emblematic of a far scrappier second period, Collin Quaner finally muscled out after Mathias Jorgensen was afforded a free header.
Substitute Christian Atsu blazed a shot wide as the home side struggled for renewed inspiration, but it was from his cross that a home moment to savour came, Lossl's hand in vain as Kenedy looked up and Perez made it count.
Quaner, left carelessly free as a ball was flashed across goal, and then Scott Malone had late chances to provide a final twist but a Town leveller would have been unjust, Benitez's side deservedly able to breathe easier as the games tick down.
- Newcastle are unbeaten in six straight home league games (W3 D3) - their best such run in the top flight since December 2014 under Alan Pardew (also six).
- Huddersfield Town have drawn a blank in 12 separate away games in the Premier League this season, just one short of the single-season record (13) for failing to score on the most occasions on the road in the competition's history, jointly held by Norwich City in 1994-95, Southampton in 1998-99 and Middlesbrough in 2002-03.
- Ayoze Perez has scored his first Premier League goal at St James' Park since March 5 2016 against Bournemouth, 756 days ago.
- Kenedy has been directly involved in four goals in his first four home league games for Newcastle United (two goals, two assists).
Man of the match - Jonjo Shelvey
Paul Dummett defended stoutly, Mo Diame grafted tirelessly in midfield and Ayoze Perez - finally - provided the finish but Jonjo Shelvey gave further ammunition to those clamouring for an England call with another impressive display in the middle.
Short, long, defence-splitting or diagonal, he crafted and stretched play once again with his passing range, even if his influence did diminish after the interval - and he shanked a couple of efforts well wide. Gayle should have done better with the glorious ball that dropped onto his laces midway through the first half.
The pundit view
Paul Merson: "Newcastle are one win away from safety. They were brilliant in the first half; in the first 30 minutes they had 10 shots on goal. They kept on going in the first half but in the second half they never got themselves going and Huddersfield came back into the game. But the goal was superb and they definitely deserved to win the game.
"Huddersfield have no pace but if you had said to them at the beginning of the season that after 31 games they would be outside of the relegation zone they would have been happy."
How did England hopefuls fare?
Jonjo Shelvey's vision and passing range continue to catch the eye, though more than two years have passed since his last England cap. He was wasteful on occasion in front of goal but made five chances for his team-mates - including that opportunity for Gayle.
Newcastle team-mate Jamaal Lascelles has been touted as an outside bet after growing into his captaincy at St James' Park. He admitted he was disappointed not to make the cut but was solid again here, making seven clearances and a key interception.
Rafa Benitez: "The team was working so hard. We had very clear chances in the first half; it was a pity we couldn't score but we were attacking and creating chances. To win three in a row at home, the fans are delighted. It's breathing space but not enough. Forty points is the target so we have to carry on."
David Wagner: "It's a disappointing result. It was a very good defensive performance from my players and we had the best chances in the second half. For sure it hurts but from what I've seen - the fighting spirit and the work ethic - I have no concerns that we'll be able to collect the points we need."
Resurgent Newcastle travel to Leicester next Saturday, while Huddersfield face another of the sides who came up with them last season, Brighton, as they seek to kick-start their own fight for survival.