When Newcastle United signed Dwight Gayle this summer, most supporters assumed that he would serve as a brilliant backup to fan favourite Aleksandar Mitrovic. However, the former Crystal Palace striker has defied the odds to pip the Serbian star to the starting role in Rafa Benitez’s system and with good reason. Gayle has scored 16 goals in 19 appearances for the Magpies this season, including two hat-tricks against Norwich and Birmingham. If he continues to shine at the forefront of Newcastle’s offense, he could be set to claim the Golden Boot award as well as a potential Championship winners’ medal.
Simply put, Newcastle have been on another level compared to their second tier rivals this season and it will take a minor miracle for the Magpies to miss out on automatic promotion back to the top flight. As of December 15th, Benitez’s men are currently 2/7 at Betway to win the crown this campaign – just as they did the year after they dropped out of the Premier League in 2009. With Gayle leading the line, Newcastle could be set to score a plethora of goals; they already have 43 goals in 21 games. Comparatively, Norwich and Fulham have managed 36 whilst Brighton & Hove Albion have netted 33.
If Gayle can avoid picking up a long-term injury or suspension, the Magpies man may push for a second tier scoring record. Incredibly, he is scoring at a faster rate than Barcelona star Lionel Messi this season; a statistic that tells you just how impressive Gayle has been. With 16 goals in 1,282 minutes of football, the former Palace striker is averaging a strike every 80 minutes whilst Messi nets once every 85 minutes in La Liga. Newcastle spent £10 million on Gayle, but he is exceeding all expectations and the Magpies would struggle to cope if he were to miss a sustained period of action.
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In a way, Benitez now has the best of both worlds with Gayle and Mitrovic. If he believes a physical approach is needed, Mitrovic may be handed the start. If he believes that the Magpies are set to dominate the ball and need a ‘fox in the box’, then Gayle may get the start. There is a common misconception that the Championship is a long ball division but that belief is so far from the truth. England’s second tier used to be very physical indeed and it would be unfair to claim that it isn’t tough but the influx of foreign talent has helped to tweak the entire Football League; not just the top flight.
Gayle is perhaps more suited to the Championship than ever before and Newcastle will reap rewards from his extensive skill set at the business end of the campaign. Benitez will be hoping that his Magpies side won’t need the play-offs to secure their place back in the Premier League but Gayle has already shown that he can cope with the pressure on the big stage and it might be wise for the Spaniard to roll with their in-form striker. As of December 16th, the Championship leaders have a nine point advantage over third-placed Derby County and it is hard to envision Newcastle letting their current lead slip.
Dwight Gayle can do it all – and Newcastle supporters know it. The Magpies aren’t entirely reliant on his form in their bid to secure the Championship title but Gayle is a key figure in Benitez’s grand plan and the Spaniard is likely to keep the former Palace star in the starting line-up. After all, you never change a winning formula and Gayle certainly gives the Magpies a completely unique dimension that rarely works in England’s second tier.