Daryl Murphy’s late header yesterday ensured that Newcastle will finish the weekend at the summit of the Championship.Phoenixlogo

The Irishman nodded in from Ayoze Perez’s superb centre to secure the win at Griffin Park when truth be told the hosts looked the most likely victors. Top scorer Dwight Gayle had earlier put United in front with his 20th strike of the season before Lasse Vibe poked in an equaliser shortly after the interval.

But it was Rafa Benitez’s side who took the spoils when Murphy rose above his markers on an afternoon where guts and endeavour shone through.After last week’s cup draw at Birmingham it was a much-changed United line up that took to the field on a crisp afternoon in West London.

Only Jamaal Lascelles, Jack Colback and DeAndre Yedlin retained their places in a much more familiar looking starting
Brentford2eleven.  Karl Darlow returned between the sticks, with Ciaran Clark – arguably the signing of the season so far – slotting in next to the skipper and Paul Dummett at left back. Isaac Hayden returned to the engine room, with Matt Ritchie and Yoan Gouffran also restored to the side.

And it was United who started more brightly, controlling the tempo of the game and winning a succession of corners in front of the travelling fans.

With Gayle haranguing defenders from the front Brentford struggled to put anything coherent together and it was the ex-Palace man who put Newcastle ahead inside twenty minutes with a sweet left footed strike.

The striker – the first NUFC man to notch twenty goals in a season since Alan Shearer – carried the ball from just inside the Bees’ half before unleashing a fierce left footed drive from a narrow angle.

After the goal the hosts began to threaten and Darlow was forced to be alert to come out and block Lasse Vibe’s effort.

Shortly afterward Gayle was forced to withdraw from the fray with a hamstring injury and the loss of the division’s top scorer changed the game completely. United’s previously visible high press become redundant and the homes side were afforded more time on the ball as a result. Some neat interplay between Perez and substitute Murphy almost saw United’s lead double, but it came as little surprise to many when the equaliser came shortly after the break.

After Darlow’s poor punch had failed the clear the area the United stopper almost made amends with a smart save from Rafa25the follow up.

However, the rebound fell kindly to Vibe who made no mistake from six yards out. Brentford took control of the contest with Newcastle’s cause not helped by losing both Isaac Hayden and then the midfielder’s replacement Vernon Anita to injury in quick succession. The latter was replaced by Grant Hanley and saw a change in formation to 3-5-2 which seemed to give some stability to the back line on what was an underwhelming afternoon for Lascelles.

Vibe, a constant thorn in United’s side, should have had a second ahead after a clever one two he could only watch on in anguish lofted strike hit the inside of the far post and was cleared off the line. It came as somewhat a surprise then when the winner came with just over 10 minutes of normal time remaining on the clock.

A misplaced Brentford pass presented the ball to Colback on the halfway line who found Perez out on the left wing. The Spaniard looked up and curled a sublime cross with the outside of this right foot straight onto the head of Murphy who had made a clever run to get between the home side’s two centre backs.

And the boys in blue held on through a nervy nine minutes of injury time, although not before the referee had turned down a strong penalty appeal and Darlow had made a smart stop away to his right to deny substitute Jota.

With Brighton slipping to an unexpected defeat at the hands of Preston, Newcastle returned to the top of the table with twenty or so games to go. It is often said that to win a division you have to win ugly at times and this was certainly the case on this occasion. But the victory came at a cost – perhaps most significantly with the loss of Gayle at a time when Alexander Mitrovic is already out, while the injuries to Hayden and Anita could see Cheick Tiote’s seemingly imminent departure delayed.

No one can fault the lads for effort but there are were certainly more questions than answers and many of these will need addressing over the coming month or so. Top marks for effort but the reality is there was little by way of spark and Rafa will be hoping to have a least one new face through the door before the window slams shut at the end of the month.

It is clear for all to see that United are much stronger down the right-hand side than the left, with Gouffran in particular offering little going forward and Colback – pass for the second aside – almost exclusively playing the ball backwards or sideways. The loss of Shelvey has been critical and his return should bring some much-needed creativity back to the midfield area, with our reliance on his passing ability evident while he has been missing.

With the next three league games all coming at SJP there is a great opportunity for the lads to sort out our home form, hopefully with a strong crowd backing.

SAM DALLING – Follow Sam on @sammyd767

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