A change in staff, style and philosophy
As far as the opening weekend of the new Premier League season goes, I’m happy with the point against Southampton.
Others may disagree with me on that but the fact of the matter is that Southampton are a very good side.
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As much as it was disappointing to ultimately end up with one point when we’d led 2-1 for the majority of the second half, I’d say there wasn’t a great deal to be unhappy about.
If we learned anything at all from the draw, it’s that Newcastle United are still very much a work in progress, but also that optimism isn’t a foolish state of mind to have.
A lot of people may read too much into the opening weekend of the season. Often it’s filled with new managers, coaches and players trying to find their feet after the pre-season campaign.
For Newcastle (or at least, for me), our game felt like far more than simply the first of a 38-game campaign.
After a summer which saw a change in staff, style and philosophy, the 90 minutes against Southampton were going to give a good indication of just what Newcastle can be this season.
The result wasn’t a necessity, but had the Magpies fallen short in their performance, there would have been more than one fan concerned at the idea of Newcastle failing to learn from past mistakes.
Had we given a good account of ourselves, we could finally be able to relax a little easier knowing that we’re finally at least making steps in the right direction.
Thankfully, the game with Southampton showed more indication of the latter.
One thing that was great to see, was McClaren’s team sheet. It’s safe to say that many were pleasantly surprised at the exclusion of the likes of Mike Williamson and Yoan Gouffran.
Despite having fans scream for months on end that neither are good enough to play in the Premier League, do we now have a head coach who can notice these basic observations himself? Lord knows Alan Pardew and John Carver couldn’t do so.
It was definitely a risk to play Fabricio Coloccini and Chancel Mbemba at the heart of defence, particularly given the pair’s lack of action during the pre-season. But it’s a risk that did seem to pay off well enough. The former Anderlecht man in particular put in a very solid, composed performance on his debut.
Another of the new boys, Gini Wijnaldum, capped off an energetic display with an absolute peach of a header early in the second half to lift the roof of St. James’ Park.
Had we hung on for the 2-1 win, it would have been a most worthy winning goal.
For the time Aleksandar Mitrovic spent on the pitch (which quite easily could have been even briefer than it was), he showed great strength with the ball to hold off Southampton defenders as he tried to break through the back line.
So as far as the contributions of the new boys go, things are looking good. It seems we’re set to be way, way ahead of the absolute farce of a season last year served up at least.
Even when looking through the rest of the side, Obertan showed flashes that he could go on to contribute this year, and Anita looked in the mood to continue his form from last season’s final day showdown against West Ham.
The team seemed to have much more swagger about them. They passed the ball around well (excluding the last 10 or so minutes, we’ll let that go down to opening day tired legs) and there was more of a buzz than usual when Newcastle broke forward.
Most importantly, every player out on the pitch looked happy to be playing for Newcastle United. A far cry from the cowardly displays we saw far too often last season.
There’s a lot more football to be played this year, and as much as we won’t really have too much of an idea of where Newcastle are going based on just one game. It does seem safe to say that under McClaren we look like a side that isn’t going to be regularly embarrassed.
We aren’t going to be a side that rolls over and gift-wraps the points for our opponents (especially in the derby games).
The picture could change this time next week after a trip to Swansea, who looked very impressive as they drew at champions Chelsea on Saturday, but for now, there’s far more to look ahead to than not for Newcastle fans. Long may it continue.
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