When Steve McClaren revealed his team at 2pm on Saturday, most Newcastle fans felt their hearts sink that little bit further.
Only the forced/expected changes of Rob Elliot fit again to come back in for Karl Darlow, whilst it was like for like with defensive midfielder Cheick Tiote in for the injured Vurnon Anita.
However, beyond the basic team selection there WAS a much bigger change of direction by Steve McClaren.
After being stuck out on the wing for pretty much all of this season, Gini Wijnaldum was at last given his chance in the middle of the pitch – the player who is easily Newcastle’s most natural finisher getting a chance to influence play more and get in the box. Radical!
Almost to a man (and woman) the United fanbase has been calling for Wijnaldum and Sissoko to get more central roles so they can have more of an impact on the game.
Was it then no surprise to see a far far better display by the former PSV player and subsequently his team?
Steve McClaren had previously looked to take a leaf out of Alan Pardew’s book, by steadfastly continuing with a formation/team selection that wasn’t working.
The Colback/Anita axis far too weak, negative and predictable, along with the refusal to bring Sissoko and/or Wijnaldum into the middle.
On another day Gini Wijnaldum could have had a hat-trick and should definitely have had one, racing through the middle and latching on to Perez’ perfect through ball, though Cech eventually blocked as the Dutch midfielder was not quite decisive enough.
Interviewed afterwards, Steve McClaren was asked if his different formation and playing style was the reason for the much improved performance against Arsenal but the Head Coach appeared reluctant to accept that he had done things radically different to previous.
He was much more keen to just keep on peddling this line that Arsenal was just yet another example of Newcastle being unlucky, suggesting it was just a similar case to the games against Everton, West Brom and Aston Villa.
For the watching Newcastle fans it was obvious the display against Arsenal was anything but – the team having a much better flow and balance to it, plus carrying far more threat.
This was a world away from the Villa and West Brom matches and the vast majority of the performance against Everton.
Moving Wijnaldum inside created a far more cohesive and threatening team and dare I say it, the removal of the ineffective Vurnon Anita from proceedings didn’t do any harm either.
I just hope that in private Steve McClaren is more honest with his appraisal and that he doesn’t fall back into the terrible negative style that he has favoured throughout this season.
If Newcastle are to get out of this hole, they need their best players in the best possible places to make a difference.
Alan Pardew occasionally stumbled on a major improvement at Newcastle by accident/injury and usually stuck with it, let’s hope Steve McClaren’s pride doesn’t prevent him doing the same.
Steve McClaren speaking to the club’s official TV channel:
‘A different formation, different style – do you think that took Arsenal by surprise?’
“Maybe, maybe not.
“But I thought we came here to do a job and each individual did their job, I couldn’t fault them.
“The only thing missing was sticking the ball in the back of the net.
“You could see Arsenal getting frustrated and frustrated, getting more and more panicky, whereas we kept our composure all the way through.
“Yet the record books will show three 1-0 defeats, that’s the disappointing thing. The last three games I have stood behind the camera and said exactly the same thing.
“The last header against Everton, the last 10 minutes at West Brom and today – opportunities in all of them, including the Aston Villa one that we drew. We should have more points but we haven’t.”
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