NEWCASTLE may have broken their goal duck this season but boss Alan Pardew says there is still work to be done up front.
After being shut out by Manchester City and Aston Villa in the Premier League, a trip to Gillingham in the Capital One Cup second round represented a chance to open the scoring floodgates.
Pardew started £6m striker Emmanuel Rivière, but it was Gills’ former Sunderland defender John Egan who settled the game with a first-half own goal.
Nonetheless, Pardew was satisfied to avoid a potential banana skin and pleased to see his defence make up for profligacy in front of goal.
“The scoreline didn’t really reflect our dominance,” he said. “I’ve been here many times as a manager, I’ve played here and scouted here, and it’s a very difficult place to come. Yet we controlled the game more or less all the way through.
“I’m pleased but frustrated that we didn’t score more than one.
“They give up more space in midfield to have an extra centre half, so it was difficult to break them down.
“I can’t be disappointed – our application was great, the two centre halves typified that.
“One thing that is typical of us right now is that we are not conceding many chances, and we’ve had three games against very different opposition.
“There is no doubt that we need to improve in the forward areas. “We’ve shown we’re a really solid team in our performances in the three games, without getting a break in front of goal. So many times we could have got in, and could have had two or three.”
Rivière, a summer signing from Monaco, had a couple of half-chances but found former West Ham keeper Stephen Bywater in decent form.
Playing just behind the 24-year-old was the trio of Gabriel Obertan, Siem de Jong and 18-year-old debutant Rolando Aarons.
They all impressed – Aarons in particular until he was replaced by Rémy Cabella on the hour – as Pardew made six changes from the team that drew against Villa on Saturday.
Mehdi Abeid also returned for the first time since January 2013 with the United manager successfully shuffling his pack.
“I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” he added.
“The most important thing for a manager in a cup is to win, which we’ve done.
“It was a shame [Rolando Aarons] got a knock. I thought he caused them the most problems. He’s played his way into in and around the first team now.
“I think he typifies what Newcastle fans want to see – taking people on and making things happen. There’s a chance he could appear on Saturday [against Crystal Palace].
“[Obertan] has had a good pre-season. If I can keep his confidence levels where they are now, he can win back the crowd. Sometimes our crowd is difficult for him. He had freedom tonight and he showed his qualities.
“Hopefully on Saturday we get some luck, it would be nice to score two or three.
“The way Crystal Palace play on the break, it’s possible they could score, so we may have to get two or three.”