Newcastle 1 Huddersfield 2 – Saturday 13 August 2016 3pm
It’s fair to say that life in the Championship so far, is not all going according to plan.
There was a definite sense of pragmatism in response to the Fulham defeat as we were all sure that lessons would be learned, the team would be keen to bounce back and it would be a different story at home in front of a sell out crowd, especially with the inauguration of the excellent Gallowgate flags campaign.
The flags looked amazing as the entire stand swayed, sang and waved away with expectant euphoria, a sea of black and white ready to swarm any visitors foolish enough to venture into these choppy, shark-infested waters.
When it came to it, unfortunately, the Sharks were lacking bite. The absence of Matt Richie from the starting XI was puzzling to say the least after he was the only shining light at Craven Cottage, with the utilisation of Anita on the wing instead, making it look even more of an odd call from Rafa.
The first half picked up right where Fulham had left off. The hope that Diame would add emphasis to the midfield proved forlorn as he underwent a forgettable debut. The recalled Shelvey next to him was industrious early on but faded badly and Dwight Gayle found himself horribly isolated up front.
In the entire opening period chances were restricted to an early Gayle header that missed the target with the goalie in Norman’s land and a low Shelvey free kick that was smothered well by Ward in the Huddersfield goal (but seemed at the expense of ignoring a gaping Joe-Hart-esque gap on the opposite side). Fortunately, none of Huddersfield’s numerous speculative efforts had really tested Sels so the first 45 passed without concern.
Except it’s not the 45 that’s the problem is it? It’s that ridiculous, annoying, beyond a joke period of first half injury time that yet again brought an opposition goal. The knackered looking Shelvey allowed Terriers winger La Parra to burst past him and his cross was firmly diverted home by Wells at the Gallowgate end, taking the wind right out of the flags.
A worrying first half seemed offset with the introduction of Ritchie. Although Aarons did little before being replaced by him, it may have given the team more of an attacking impetus had both remained on the field as opposed to Anita struggling away on the left.
As it was the former Bournemouth man was again our shining light, trying his damnedest to turn the game our way. His link up play with Janmaat seemed the most likely outlet but the Dutchman has developed a habit of sending over early crosses instead of his previous form of skinning full backs and looking for the centre, which would surely get more joy in this league than knocking across more balls that Gayle struggled to get near.
The new number nine did have his moment as we earn a fortunate foothold in the game. A fully outstretched hand from Town’s Mark Hudson was every bit as blatant a penalty as the Tunnicliffe effort at Fulham, except today’s referee was blessed with the competence to identify such rule breaking.
Gayle’s penalty was utterly awful and I don’t want him taking any more, but Ward’s save ballooned up nicely for a simple nod home on his home debut. A let off, time to charge at them.
Miserably, the onslaught did not come as United continued to toil in the face of Huddersfield’s Championship-typifying aggression. They simply didn’t let us play, and certainly deserved something from the game. It may be pushing it that they took the three points, but when it came to count it was the Terriers’ Jack Payne who belted home the winner on the break, while our more illustrious attackers continued to send aimless balls into the box.
Of course, this is not the time to panic, although the pressure to beat Reading is immense. However, there are clearly some unanswered questions in this side.
A strong presence up front is essential and many feel this will come with the return of Mitrovic. I would be very cautious though in relying so heavily on a player whose goals return and temperament were both questionable in his first season, despite his style seeming well-suited to the Championship. Furthermore, this proves that without Mitro, there is no one to fill that role, so even an excellent season from the Serb could be too little if he is rendered unavailable.
More creativity on the left, both at winger and full-back, is required and somebody needs to step into the role that Alan Smith contributed an underrated amount to in our last Championship season; that of the midfield hatchet man. If Rafa believes Colback or Anita can do this, he needs to put them there and they need to perform.
Hopefully things will gel, reinforcements will arrive and this will turn out to be the result Matt Ritchie hinted at post-match, when he suggested this stuttering start will be a distant memory in May. In this league, you don’t have to wait long to put things right and the cluster of forthcoming fixtures will tell us more. The bottom line is we have a manager who we all trust and patience and strong support should continue to be put forward in abundance.
Finally, another word on the outstanding work of the Gallowgate flags campaign, whose incredible efforts went unrewarded by the team but surely appreciated by all who witnessed it. Well, most at least, as my mate Hutch had an altercation on the way out as he attempted to admonish a pair of scumbags stealing off with a flag.
This was apparently widespread and I’m sure there was some innocence in this from people who may have thought this was a one-off club initiative and not the fan-funded exercise it is.
However, the people Hutch pulled up clearly just didn’t give a stuff, as their response to his advising others had paid for the item they were stealing was to aim a volley of abuse from the safe distance of the bottom of a flight of steps. We’re all in this together and it’s been a magnificent pull together.
However, at St James Park, as in life, a portion of the population are unfortunately just dicks.
Here are the stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Huddersfield 2
Newcastle: Gayle 60
Huddersfield: Wells 45, Payne 82
Possession was Huddersfield 35% Newcastle 65%
Total shots were Huddersfield 8 Newcastle 13
Shots on target were Huddersfield 3 Newcastle 4
Corners were Huddersfield 1 Newcastle 4
Team: Sels, Janmaat (Armstrong 83), Lascelles, Mbemba, Dummett, Shelvey, Anita, Hayden, Aarons (Ritchie 46), Diame (Perez 75), Gayle
Unused Subs: Darlow, Gamez, Clark, Colback
Ref: Oliver Langford