Birmingham 1 Newcastle 1

FA Cup 3rd Round – Saturday 7 January 2017

This is my first match report since we won 6-0 away to QPR in early September.

This season, for the first time in 18 years, I have spent a few months away from Newcastle United.

Since I was three it has been every home game, and since I was eight it has been pretty much every away game. Two and a half years ago I made the trip down south for university and still kept it up (so thanks to Mum and Dad for paying). Last season I made it to most away games and wrote most of the match reports on The Mag.

However, this season I decided it was too much, mainly because being 21 I now have to pay for my own tickets and travel, something I just can’t afford to do every weekend. I couldn’t afford to make the trips up north, nor could I afford to travel to most away games. Before the defeat to Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day, the 6-0 win away to QPR was my last game… only because it was local.

As a big football fan, I couldn’t not watch football every weekend – what else am I going to do on a Saturday? Hang out with my girlfriend? So I bought a season ticket, at a relatively cheap price of £250, at my ‘local’ team while I am at university… West Ham United.

Sitting in the Olympic Stadium while Newcastle are playing has been tough! But it has been interesting to view the team this season from afar.

From the outside it looks like Newcastle have steamrollered the Championship so far, sweeping all before them. If you were only to listen to those at the Evening Chronicle you’d have thought we had won the league already.

The truth is that the squad still isn’t great and if we were to be promoted at the end of the season, it would still need a lot of improvement to survive in the Premier League.

This season is by no means going to be the walk in the park that others are talking about. Brighton are looking strong, Derby are looking good under McClaren, Leeds look like a decent side and I would not even rule out Norwich who have the potential to put together a 8/9 game winning streak. There is always one team who tail off and there is no reason why Newcastle should be exempt from that.

January will be important with reinforcements needed. Perhaps reinforcements is the wrong word… it may be more fitting to say that better players are needed. We need a better left-back, a better centre midfielder to partner Shelvey (although Hayden and Tiote are still worthy options) and a much better winger is needed.

Is Gouffran good enough? I still don’t think so and in the games I have been at this season, he hasn’t done anything to suggest he is a different player to the one that failed in the Premier league for three years.

One thing that is not being mentioned by many is that the standard of teams in the Championship is, in my opinion, atrocious. The gap between the Championship and Premier League is arguably larger than ever, which is perhaps summed up by losing out to Hull in the League Cup, the worst team in the division by far… with Newcastle supposedly being the best team in this division by far.

With the exception of a few players at Brighton, Hughes at Derby and Amavi at Aston villa, Brady at Norwich City, there isn’t a player in the division who I think would get into the Newcastle team… and we aren’t even that good. That is how poor the championship is.

The Game

As per most games this season, there really wasn’t much to talk about, especially in terms of chances. Newcastle came out the blocks early and had real attacking intent in the first five minutes with Lazaar and Yedlin looking dangerous going forward and delivering a few crosses to the big two up front who caused problems.

The goal came from exactly that, with the crosses into the box causing a problem – the ball went out for a corner and Newcastle were 1-0 up through Daryl Murphy.

Gouffran then came on for Mitrovic as Newcastle dropped deep and attempted to see out the remaining 40 minutes left to play in the first half. Gouffran did have a great chance to make it 2-0 as he took the ball past goalkeeper but inexplicably decided not to shoot when the goal was gaping.

The Birmingham goal came from a mixture of poor refereeing and terrible defending. Newcastle gave a free-kick away in the Birmingham half, which was taken quickly, albeit 10 yards from where the actual offence occurred. Coupled with pathetic attempts to reach the ball from Colback and Lazaar as Birmingham strode forward. A poor goal to concede.

Newcastle were even worse in the second half and created nothing. Benitez did make subs, bringing on Ritchie and Hayden who were largely ineffectual. In the end, it was the home side who looked most likely to win it as they troubled Newcastle with crosses into the box.

There were a few boos at half time, something which has been creeping in a lot lately, especially over the Christmas period. Will this deter Rafa and the players? I don’t think so.

Rafa Benitez

Under Benitez so far this season I have been really pleased with the results, they have been fantastic. However, the performances have been poor, especially at home.

Away from home Newcastle have looked good, Rafa has the team tight, compact, solid, difficult to break down and more often than not they take their chances or get that bit of luck. The points at home have been raised about playing defensive, or with only one forward, and they’re totally valid. It is hard to criticise Benitez but it does appear that particularly at home, there does not appear to be a plan B.

I wrote after the first game of the season at Fulham that i feared Rafa would show teams too much respect this season and I still think that’s the case.

The Fans

4,900 fans made the trip to Birmingham… again, it was a brilliant turnout from our support, with us taking almost as many fans as home supporters!

Although, it has to be said that the atmosphere was very quiet, almost silent at some points during the game, which is rare. Perhaps because the football at the moment is so boring. I am sorry, but it is really boring football, and that’s a fact. It’s hard for the fans sometimes to get behind the team when what is in front of you is so dull – although I do try my best. Sometimes it is the players who are the ones who have to get the fans going and at the moment they’re not doing that.

One thing that i do find unacceptable with the away support at the moment, and it is something I have never seen before (with the exception of Thauvin at Watford last season), is the lack of support shown to players, in particular Jack Colback and Metz Sels. Granted, the two players have been rubbish this season, Colback looks like he can’t play football at the moment and well, I look away every time the ball goes near Sels.

However, chants of ‘Karl Darlow’ and ironic cheers whenever Sels did catch the ball are just ludicrous and something needs to be addressed. Likewise with Colback, it is almost as if some fans want him to do badly when he has possession, just so they can have a go at him.

Our away support is well-known, we have always in the 18 years I have been watching Newcastle, been the best travelled fans in England, but if the attitude is to come along and not get behind the team then why would you even come along at all? Might as well stay at home or in the pub outside the ground…

That being said, in the hat for the 4th round draw, with a winnable game against Birmingham at home, is all that matters.

Onwards and Upwards.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Birmingham 1 Newcastle 1

Goals:

Newcastle: Murphy 5

Birmingham: Jutkiewicz 42

Possession was Birmingham 47% Newcastle 53%

Total shots were Birmingham 9 Newcastle 5

Shots on target were Birmingham 3 Newcastle 2

Corners were Birmingham 1 Newcastle 6

Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Crowd: 13,171 (Newcastle 4,671)

Newcastle United:

Sels, Anita, Lascelles, Hanley, Haidara (Ritchie 69), Yedlin, Tiote (Hayden 65), Colback, Lazaar, Murphy, Mitrovic (Gouffran 10)

Unused Subs:

Darlow, Dummett, Clark, Gayle

We also asked Jonathan to provide Match Ratings for each player and they were published after the game and can be seen HERE.