Jamaal Lascelles has brushed off his hero status after heading Newcastle to victory for the second time in a week.
The 23-year-old Magpies skipper, who scored the only goal at Swansea last Sunday, repeated the dose on Saturday to secure a 2-1 win over Stoke at St James’ Park, in the process clinching a third successive top-flight success for the first time since November 2014.
As the final whistle sounded, promoted Newcastle sat in fourth place in the Premier League table a day short of 20 years since the evening – still remembered in vivid detail on Tyneside – when they beat Barcelona 3-2 in the Champions League.
Rafael Benitez’s team may be in a very different stage in their evolution to the one Kenny Dalglish sent out that night, but the sense of unity among the current crop is proving hugely effective.
Lascelles told the club’s website: “It just goes to show how much character we have. A couple of seasons back, we’d go a goal down or concede a goal and heads would drop. We’d be looking at each other like, ‘Who’s going to step up?’
“But everyone steps up, the 11 of us. This group of boys is excellent – we just keep going.
“We’re an ambitious bunch of players, we’re a really tight group of lads and we’re friends. We work hard for each other on the pitch.”
After a shaky start, Newcastle took a 19th-minute lead when Christian Atsu fired home from Matt Ritchie’s cross at the far post, and Lascelles might have double their advantage, but headed just wide from a Ritchie corner.
However, Stoke were not prepared to accept defeat and, after forcing two fine saves from keeper Rob Elliot, Xherdan Shaqiri levelled when he drilled a 57th-minute shot into the bottom corner.
Elliot did manage to claw away Mame Biram Diouf’s goal-bound header as the visitors sensed an opportunity, but, having been denied a penalty for Kurt Zouma’s challenge on Atsu, the Magpies regained the lead.
Ritchie’s inswinging corner allowed Lascelles to get above Kevin Wimmer and power his header past Jack Butland off the underside of the bar.
“I thought, ‘Just attack it’,” Lascelles said. “I think I should have scored in the first half, which I was pretty disappointed with, so I felt like I needed to make up for that.
“Matt Ritchie’s deliveries are unbelievable – I feel like I can get a few goals this season with his crosses, and especially when teams are marking zonally as well.”
Stoke boss Mark Hughes was disappointed with his side’s first-half performance, but still felt they should have emerged with something.
He said: “I thought we were better in the second half, and once we got back on level terms, I thought we had a real opportunity to take the game away from them.
“But we made a mistake from the corner to allow them to get into the lead again and then it was going to be difficult for us.
“Even so, we still had two, three really good opportunities towards the end of the game which on another day we take and we get something out of the game.”
Published at Sun, 17 Sep 2017 11:23:57 +0000