With the future of Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez still very much up in the air – despite the Spaniard recently indicating he would be happy to remain on Tyneside beyond the expiration of his current contract in the summer – the club’s fans will take all the good news they can get at this stage. After a decent, albeit underwhelming, season now all but finished the sight of seeing one of your own players controlling a game and capping it all off with a hattrick is a beautiful one to behold. That is exactly what 25-year-old Spaniard Ayoze Perez delivered during the Magpies’ home game against Southampton last weekend, scoring all three goals in the 3-1 win which secured the Tynesiders’ Premier League survival.
Perez’s three goals were his first hattrick for the club since arriving from Tenerife for around €3m back in 2014, and they ensured Saints fans were forced to wait longer still to secure their own survival in the top flight. Two goals in four first half minutes put Benitez’s men in firm control of the game, the first coming after Isaac Hayden had done well to regain possession. He beat Ryan Bertrand to Salomon Rondon‘s cross to double the advantage, and while Southampton striker Shane Long did pull one back early in the second half to bring some tension to the fixture the game was put to bed when Perez completed his hattrick with just three minutes left of normal time.
Perez’s exploits in front of goal have taken his tally for the season to 10 goals, ensuring he is the first player since now-Liverpool star Georginio Wijnaldum achieved the feat for the Toon back in 2014-15. He is also the first Newcastle player to score a top flight hattrick since Wijnaldum in the same season. His influence on the Newcastle side has been truly impressive this season, with Jamaal Lascelles taking to the media this week to re-emphasise just how important Perez will be to the development of the club as manager Benitez wants to “manage in the Champions League again”. Newcastle have been there before, and if Perez can maintain this season’s form – and even continue to improve beyond the current campaign – then he could well prove a figurehead in the Geordies’ hopes of eventually returning to European football’s primary competition.
That is still some way off, however, and Newcastle’s development will need to be gradual over the course of the next few years if they can genuinely hope to sustain such a high league position. The primary target for owner Mike Ashley should, of course, be retaining the services of both Benitez and Perez above all else. Doing so would send out a statement that there is some genuine quality at the club and could help attract the calibre of player required for such an ambitious push into Europe, but for the time being solidifying their Premier League status and avoiding even flirting with a relegation battle must be next season’s primary aim – with a top half finish a potential bonus.
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