Having hardly missed a home game for some 35 years, I have been avoiding St James Park for the past 27 months or so.
I’ll never stop being a Newcastle fan of course but I couldn’t face giving Mike Ashley another penny.
Saturday that came to an end – I didn’t exactly skip up to St James Park but I was looking forward to being back, with new-found optimism and self-respect thanks to one man…and no, I don’t mean Mike Ashley.
Rafa Benitez had convinced me to end my two year boycott, all I want is my club to be ran properly and the Spaniard had done that, Ashley having ran the club into the ground and total disaster calling – the club’s owner had no choice but to accept Rafa’s demands and finally do things properly. Appointing a manager with other credentials than just willing to be a yes man, working to an agreed budget and having total control of the transfer process.
Despite the blip in the opening game at Craven Cottage, I was very optimistic as I went through the Milburn stand turnstile for the Huddersfield match.
Even though I saw a second defeat of the season I am still a total believer that Rafa Benitez will be a success (unless Mike Ashley reverts to type) at Newcastle, although I did have a few things I wanted to talk about…
The support for the team was pretty much non-existent. Much of the excitement fans display about matches seems to go on pre-match these days, especially on social media, when match day comes around like on Saturday I looked around and just saw people, even younger fans, simply sitting back as spectators – rather than participants in the event.
Like many more ‘experienced’ supporters, I can’t believe how you can have over 50,000 inside St James Park and yet it is like a ‘library’, as the Huddersfield fans were so keen to tell us.
Not sure what the answer is to this but obviously getting standing areas back is essential and encouraging a significant singing end would be a big bonus. Having people waving flags about before the match – not sure what that is supposed to achieve when then everybody is ordered to put them down once the action starts.
In other countries these kinds of things are encouraged to get the atmosphere going in anticipation of the match and then carry on into it, not for it all to stop on kick-off!
As for the team, the last game I saw in the flesh at St James Park had been the 3-0 defeat of Cardiff in May 2014, when the 69th minute walkout happened.
That day the starting 11 was:
Krul, Debuchy, Coloccini, Williamson, Dummett, Tiote, Sissoko, Anita, Gouffran, Shola, Remy
With the subs two years ago being Steven Taylor, Haidara and Gosling.
Only two of those 14 players were in Rafa Benitez’ 18 players against Huddersfield and not too much comfort that they were the two worst players on the pitch.
Vurnon Anita and Paul Dummett were abysmal and quite how they are still involved after so many years of showing so little is a concern. Rafa has a massive job clearing out the players who aren’t good enough and surely once he gets to where he wants to be, we won’t see this pair again.
Having said that, they weren’t alone as Aarons, Lascelles, Diame and others were almost as bad.
One thing I noticed was that nobody was willing to travel with the ball, they all wanted to pass and pass and pass, which would be fine if it was part of a plan to create and score goals, but instead it was all sideways and backwards. It was almost as if they were under orders not to carry the ball but if that was the case, it caused more problems than it solved as it got us going nowhere in terms of attack and simply led to players caught in possession with so many pointless passes.
It was no surprise that the odd bright spot was when players did commit and run at the opposition, Jonjo Shelvey achieving this a few times, as well as the main attacking axis of Ritchie/Janmaat together on the right in the second half.
Dribbling or quick one-twos is surely the only way to break down teams like Huddersfield with so many players back.
Shelvey hitting 60 yard killer Stevie G passes to the diminutive Gayle was just pointless, as for the attempts of Anita, Dummett and Aarons to contribute going forward – it was so painful that it made me almost wish for Gouffran to appear, or Obertan to return (where has he ended up by the way??).
Without Matt Ritchie (praying he is ok for Wednesday night), Newcastle’s midfield is totally static at the minute and it was noticeable how quickly Huddersfield could break with numbers compared to the ponderous efforts of the United players.
I understand why Rafa Benitez has had to buy so many players who aren’t necessarily automatic first team choices (Clark, Jesus Gamez etc.) because we needed a squad as well as a first team, considering just how weak the squad was and how many players have left in these last few transfer windows.
The challenge now for Rafa is to get Diame up to speed and Mitrovic back at the end of the month, then hopefully supplement the team with Galloway surging up and down from left-back and another winger/attacking midfielder and a striker.
You could find hundreds of other Championship players to do as good (bad?) a job as Anita, Aarons, Dummett and others, what Newcastle need are players who can do it better than them in the second tier.
Bringing those players in and also encouraging the team to go forwards with a bit of zip in their play will make the difference.
Until then, just get behind the team.