It has been 12 long years since Newcastle United had a striker who scored more than 20 goals in a season. Only injury, surely, stands in the way of Dwight Gayle joining a pretty exclusive black and white club. 35 men have managed it post-war and their names are like a roll call of Newcastle striker icons. Alan Shearer was the last, in 2004, when he scored 28 across all competitions for a United side that finished fifth and reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup. But there’s also Les Ferdinand, Andy Cole, David Kelly, Gavin Peacock, Mick Quinn, Kevin Keegan, Imre Varadi, Alan Shoulder, Alan Gowling, Malcolm Macdonald, Pop Robson, Barrie Thomas, Len White, Vic Keeble, Bobby Mitchell, Charlie Wayman, George Robledo and United’s most famous striking son Jackie Milburn. Consider those recently who didn’t manage the total: Andy Carroll, despite a season in the second tier. Michael Owen couldn’t do it either, despite all-star back-up. Obafemi Martins came close – as did Peter Beardsley, who many consider the most skilful forward ever to lace up boots in the black and white cause.
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Gayle is playing in the Championship, of course: a step down from the league where those greats etched their name into the United history books. But he has a natural goalscoring instinct which has endeared him to many – and he could conceivably aim to go even futher and hit the 30-goal mark given his soaring start to life in black and white. That would be some achievement: only eight men have done that. And his story so far is a real boon for those who argued that Newcastle’s recruitment blueprint needed to be altered after relegation. It was advice Rafa Benitez heeded after taking extensive soundings about the challenge that the Championship would pose. He wanted tried and tested lower league players with the ability to step up to the Premier League – and Gayle’s name came high up on that metric. Sure, Newcastle paid an English premium. £10million looked like a lot for a player who had struggled to win a place in an average Crystal Palace team but Benitez always intended to make him the focal point of his promotion assault – which is why people should not be surprised to see Aleksandar Mitrovic sacrificed to give the team the sort of balance that allows Gayle to do his stuff. And Gayle is an instinct striker. His touch and runs sometimes look inch-perfect in the company he is currently keeping: see his second goal against Norwich or the Tino Asprilla-esque looping effort that ended the Barnsley game as a cont…