I recall Bobby Robson once described a tough spell for his Newcastle team as ‘muck and nettles’.
That’s certainly the case as far as the current crop is concerned, even in the warm afterglow of a 6-2 home win, there’s a raft of issue to iron out on that training pitch.
More hard graft is needed to reach the comforts of mid-table before the Christmas festivities. The muck and nettles are much deeper than when Mr Robson spoke of it.
That was a time when we’d lost our three opening games in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League. Oh to be back there again! Now we’re light years away from that, but it’s the same principle in terms of the effort required from the players.
The perspiration needed to escape the relegation dogfight leaves little room for any luxuries.
This brings me to the awkward subject of Siem de Jong and Florian Thauvin.
Both are creative forces with heaps of technical ability (we hope), but both are luxuries we cannot afford just now. They are players I’d like to think can play a killer pass, and, on their day, be match winners, but the time’s not right for them.
It’s pretty obvious, and I’m not trying to stifle creativity.
The reality is that neither man has made much impact. McClaren has been backed into a corner with the league form. He needs players who will run for 90 minutes with useable engines under the hood. Players who will close down, who can influence the play more than just spasmodically.
De Jong, sadly hampered by injuries, is currently powder puff and seems to have no defined role as the club’s number ten. His injury record is a shocker and there just isn’t enough time to persist with him amid a pressure cooker scenario that’s left fans exasperated.
Siem has bags of ability but for now he’s not getting a look in. He’s a great guy. A leader. He must be frustrated and left wondering if he’ll actually be able to make it as a Premier League player. He will need to be patient.
The situation with Florian Thauvin is the same but for a set of vastly differing reasons.
Here we have a talented kid who has not been able to grasp the throes of life in a much bigger and tougher league. McClaren was absolutely right to say that the lad needs more time, but in the current malaise it’s time we don’t have to play with, hence he finds himself warming the benches.
Playmakers are crucial. The number ten and the winger are the positions I love to see flourishing in any team. They get the punters excited, bums off seats, make me want to buy a ticket for a game.
There will be room for these creators at some point, but only when the grafters we’re seeing in the current engine room, have managed to get the club clear of the drop zone.
That may take a while.
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