I have to admit that my early season optimism about the Newcastle team and management was severely tested by the defeats against Leicester and Crystal Palace.
I had tried to maintain that there were clear signs of improvement on the pitch, notably an increased sense of cohesion and spirit, but the woeful performances in both those games made it impossible to cling to any sort of positivity.
The Newcastle team that capitulates without a hint of a fight re-emerged with embarrassing familiarity, playing as badly as at any point in recent memory.
Even I was forced to question at whose door, either the players or the manager, most of the blame should be laid. While the players must carry the responsibility that their inflated wages and egos demand, perhaps too the manager is actually as inept as many believe him to be.
One decision in particular appeared confused and, quite frankly, wrong.
In my opinion, Papiss Cisse has never been worthy of wearing our number 9 shirt regardless of his occasional hot streak in front of goal. He is weak, any ball played towards him invariably bounces back the way it came, and the only thing he seems able to do consistently is to stand in an offside position.
I had assumed that this was glaringly obvious to anyone who watches Newcastle on a regular basis, yet McClaren saw it in his wisdom to start picking him over Mitrovic, and unbelievably de Jong (the less said about him the better) over Perez. There had been no mention of any injuries that I was aware of, and this after McClaren himself had spoken of Mitro and Perez developing a telepathy that all decent strike partnerships depend on.
It all seemed to be a huge step backwards and went against nearly all of the positive signs I had previously been so vocal in championing. As Mitrovic stood on the sidelines at White Hart Lane though, looking noticeably leaner, these decisions began to make a little more sense. The way that game finished could be seen as a piece of luck but it could also be seen to be a managerial masterstroke.
I don’t know the precise reasoning behind it, but the fact that Mitrovic ran onto the pitch looking sharp and fit; and his mate Perez back displaying his Suarez-esque guile, credit must be given to the attitudes of both players…who could have easily sulked…and to McLaren’s squad management skills.
Sometimes you have to drop a player to get the best out of him. Cisse too deserves a mention here as his contribution in putting pressure on Liverpool all over the pitch, ultimately led to the team securing a fairly comfortable victory that day.
Whether those back to back wins are going to be another false dawn remains to be seen, but hopefully the defeats against Palace and Leicester were a blip brought about by continuing teething problems and a badly timed International break.
There are inevitably going to be, and always will be, bad performances here and there, but neither the Liverpool or Tottenham games were won by fluke.
If they play like that every week – win, lose or draw, I’m happy.
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