In the aftermath of the Newcastle United draw at St Andrew’s in the FA Cup, a few things concerned me.
Mainly the fact that against seemingly poor opposition we failed to gain a lead sufficient enough to win the game. Something which was even more prominent in the defeat at Blackburn. The short of it is, this repeated lack of ‘killer instinct’ will cost us promotion if it’s not rectified quickly.
However, as an aside to this, one othe thing reared it’s head again. Whilst Daryl Murphy was running away celebrating his goal, Aleksandar Mitrovic went down injured and immediately fan concern was high, naturally. Nobody wants to see a player injured, especially a striker, and it becomes more of a concern when you take into account my opening statement on lack of a cutting edge.
But the issue remains for me on Mitrovic, he is a player that doesn’t seem to have any impact. The support for him is great and I do like his obvious passion, I was there when we tonked Preston North End in the cup at St James Park and the performance from him and the response from the fans was electric. However, when you consider that we have another striker (Dwight Gayle, just in case you were wondering…) that’s banging goals in every week WITHOUT anywhere near the same support, it does make you wonder.
Now, there are other issues clouding the Mitrovic conundrum.
Firstly, we have a manager who likes a system. Rafa Benitez plays 4-2-3-1 or 4-5-1, whichever way you want to look at it depending on how the game is going, with usually Mo Diame behind Dwight Gayle.
Now I’ve been critical of various members of the midfield, Diame included, as I feel he brings little to the table regarding goals and assists, but one thing is for certain, this system (including Diame playing in it) has got Newcastle into the top two of the Championship, FACT.
It would certainly be foolish to rip the system up and panic, especially as our slump has coincided with Jonjo Shelvey being missing from the engine room. Put simply, when he’s back, I expect we will probably revert back to a more fluid style and back to winning ways.
In the absence of Shelvey, the showing up of Jack Colback has been startling as I’ve never actually understood what he does. Sideways and backwards passes, mistimed tackles and nowt else. Isaac Hayden is a better player and can do the defensive work while Shelvey does the creative side of things. However, having two defensive players in there is neither solid from a defence stand point, nor creative enough going forward. Playing with 10 men as I like to put it.
Now, that problem with Mitrovic. He can’t play in Rafa’s system, that’s abundantly clear. He’s not the nippy whizz kid that Gayle is, feeding off neat balls behind the back four from the midfield and scoring from 40 yard passes supplied by Shelvey.
The first goal Dwight scored away at Leeds is a blatant example. It was scored from chasing down the goalkeeper from a seemingly useless ball from 10 yards outside the box, goalkeeper makes a mistake and Newcastle are 1-0 up. Mitrovic simply wouldn’t have been there to score it.
A solution to Mitrovic and Gayle has been well talked about by Newcastle fans on forums such as this one and in pubs and stadiums up and down the country on a match day and it’s a simple one, but also one that won’t happen. Playing 4-4-2 is the one way to get the best out of both parties in the current Newcastle team. On one hand, you drop the pointless Colback and the largely ineffective Diame and still have your midfield duo of Shelvey and Hayden and your Ritchie, Gouffran/Atsu mixture on the flanks.
Look at the way Newcastle ENDED the game against Norwich in September. With the side 1-3 down going into the last 20 minutes, the response was unbelievable. Rafa hauled off Colback for Hayden, switched Diame for Mitrovic and in the final moments took Dummett off for the flying Atsu. Result 4-3, MAGIC!
It would be easy for me to say that I checked the match report BEFORE writing this just to re-enforce my argument, but when I spotted the Diame/Mitrovic change and the Colback/Hayden one, I did think to myself that the more and more evidence I see of the two starters in the team, the more and more I feel that having both in the side is holding us back immeasurably.
And on the Mitrovic/Gayle issue, just imagine, with two strikers up top the impact that both could deal out could be immense.
Of course, like I’ve already said, Jonjo Shelvey’s return will have a massive impact and Rafa Benitez can point to the position we occupy as the result of the system we’ve played so far and he’d be 100% correct.
And maybe I’m too much from the old school of 4-4-2 with flying wingers and marauding full back – but I’ll tell you what – as a plan B it wouldn’t go amiss . .