The journey down to London was filled with nothing but optimism…
I certainly am not taking the Championship for granted but I like most of the signings we’ve made and after a positive pre-season, I was looking forward to seeing us kick off the new season.
The team we were playing were there for the taking too. Fulham’s 36 Championship goal strike force of last season had been sold off in the summer. The man leading the line in their place had only bagged 7 goals in 36 league games for them.
We were coming into the game on a 11 match unbeaten run (friendlies included). I have been to Craven Cottage twice in the past. So far we were 2-2 on aggregate from the games I’d witnessed. I was there when Barton converted a penalty to give us our last win at the Cottage. The other game was a 2-1 defeat in which Ben Arfa scored a wonderful goal.
I didn’t know that we’d been beaten on our last six visits when I turned up – I doubt I’d make the trip next year (hopefully it won’t be an option).
When I was asked to write this piece, the editor wasn’t aware that I would have a restricted view. That’s not to say I had a restricted view ticket. It’s just that due to my height and the height of those in front of me it might as well have been Vurnon Anita documenting the match behind a gang of Mitrovics.
I managed to see the majority of the ‘action’ and I had recorded the game as well so that I could give it a second viewing. I’ll be honest; I skipped to the second half when it came to watching the game back. The first half was so poor you could have been forgiven for thinking that this was a friendly.
I don’t want to have a dig at Rafa but I did feel he got the team selection wrong as soon as I read it.
Although on paper it could be read as a 433, when you have the middle 3 as wholly defence minded players it gives you very little link-up between defence and attack.
Our tactic seemed to be to pass the ball square for a minute and then give it to Hanley who would pump it over the top for the front three to chase fruitlessly. The only player to come out of the first half with any credit was Isaac Hayden who I felt looked very calm and tidy; what you’d expect from an Arsenal graduate I guess.
Colback, who I often defend, was particularly appalling, as was Anita. Hopefully, going forward we will see Shelvey and Diame getting into that middle three to add power, purpose and precision. The three Ps coming out of two of the three picked was piss poor performances.
I do think Rafa should have played Shelvey from the beginning, as he is the man that can provide the link that was missing – until his introduction to the game. You have to bear in mind too that five of the starting players were making their competitive debuts. That’s a big ask to have half your team made up of brand new players regardless of the friendlies they have played in.
I’m guessing the knock to Mbemba is what kept him out, as he surely had to start alongside Lascelles. I would have played him and also dropped Anita for Shelvey.
As I mentioned, the first half was a lacklustre affair. We didn’t trouble the keeper for 45 minutes, which is poor at any level. The entire stand was outraged when the penalty wasn’t given, although this was a moment I missed. Having watched that back on TV it was as clear cut as they come. I won’t moan about it, as it stopped a cross going in that probably would have gone nowhere anyway. It wasn’t like it stopped a goal bound strike. That would have hurt more.
However, rules are rules and it should have been a penalty. A moment that may have given the game a completely different outcome.
I felt the goal on the stroke of half-time was maybe what the game needed. I was incorrect in this belief.
At the time though, I couldn’t imagine us being in any way worse and the goal could give the players a much-needed kick up the backsides. The goal itself was poor. I missed it as it was in the goal at our end and two of the Mitrovics decided that tip toes was the best option, meaning I’d need to be on the shoulders of the real Vurnon Anita to have any chance of witnessing the ball nestling in our net.
Having reviewed it, a large portion of blame has to fall onto the shoulders of our newly appointed captain. He gave Fulham’s biggest aerial threat a three yard run up which then equated to a free header from the corner which then resulted in a goal. I like Lascelles’ fight and desire but making him captain is a massive call.
He is still a player that only just squeezed into our first team, ahead of some shocking alternatives, at the tail end of last season. He put in some promising displays but is far from the finished article and so to make him captain is a gamble. It can be hard to drop a captain. Ask Coloccini. Hopefully he’ll build on his promise though and form a solid partnership with Mbemba going forward.
It’s a damning indictment of the state of our club that I can’t think of a better option to wear the armband anyway. It’s a distant memory since we had a group such as Shearer, Speed, Lee and Beardsley to pick between, or even Nolan, Smith, Barton and Butt for that matter.
As it turned out, although the second half was much better (I appreciate this is like saying Danny Dyer is a much better actor than Ross Kemp) we still didn’t look dominant over Fulham. We had the better chances, Ritchie just needing to hit the ball anywhere but straight at the keeper and Aarons needing to learn he has two feet, but Fulham still looked dangerous on the counter. There were a couple of moments that had my heart in my mouth as Fulham broke away before fluffing their lines in half decent positions.
I didn’t think much of the other two penalty shouts as both times the hands were tight to the body and for the first of the second two, the guy was facing the opposite way and hit at point-blank range.
All in all, it wasn’t a pretty affair but the fans were in good voice and clapped the players and manager off at the end. It’s important we don’t get carried away in the doom and gloom too early. This is one game out of forty five. As McClaren said, judge us after ten, no fifteen, no twenty, no twenty-five, don’t judge us at all actually.
Credit to Benitez. He showed he is a class above our most recent encumbents by admitting we lost because we played terribly. Pardew would have bemoaned all three penalty shouts and the Russian doping scandal.
We are in need of a massive improvement for the home game against Huddersfield.
Hopefully Mbemba will be fit and Diame and Shelvey can force their way into the side. Those two and Hayden would be my preference. I’d then go for Aarons and Ritchie as the wingers and one of Perez and Gayle as the focal point.
Hopefully we’ll see Galloway sneaking into the side too, as the combination of he and Aarons could give the left side what Janmaat and Ritchie will give the right.
Roll on Saturday.
Fulham 1 Newcastle 0 – Friday 5th August 2016 7.45pm
Here are the stats from BBC Sport:
Fulham 1 Newcastle 0
Possession was Fulham 45% Newcastle 55%
Total shots were Fulham 5 Newcastle 8
Shots on target were Fulham 3 Newcastle 2
Corners were Fulham 2 Newcastle 2
Team: Sels, Janmaat, Lascelles, Hanley, Dummett, Colback (Aarons 61), Anita, Hayden (Shelvey 77), Ritchie, Perez, (Armstrong 70) Gayle
Unused Subs: Darlow, Gamez, Mbemba, Sterry
Ref: Simon Hooper
(For instant Newcastle fan/writer reaction to the Fulham defeat go HERE)
(For the interactive Newcastle player ratings and to add your own ratings, go HERE)
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