Until Mitrovic popped up and salvaged a precious point at the back post, there wasn’t a great deal to cheer at St James Park last Sunday.
Like it or lump it, Sunderland looked more comfortable on the ball for the most part, carved out more clear chances and will feel like it was a game they should have won. They could have done with Andros Townsend on their side…
When United shelled out £12m to bring him to Tyneside, Spurs fans were quick to praise their chairman for getting an eight-figure fee for the winger, who had cultivated a reputation as a one-trick pony with a questionable attitude at White Hart Lane. But in the Tyne-Wear derby, the 24-year-old was one of only two players on the field who looked a constant threat, the other being Jermain Defoe.
Although he wasn’t on the pitch for Mitro’s late leveller – the hitherto quiet Wijnaldum providing the telling cross from the right – Townsend had a hand in just about every one of United’s positive (albeit fleeting) moments. More often than not, Jan Kirchhoff was forced to come across to the flank to help DeAndre Yedlin deal with the tricky wideman.
Neither could stop him from finding enough space to whip an early cross into Mitrovic’s path, the Serb lashing over the bar.
Ayoze Perez won the free kick from which Jonjo Shelvey went close, but it was Townsend’s pass which put the Spaniard in front of goal twenty yards out. And when Perez saw his flick cleared off the line early in the second half, there are no prizes for guessing whose corner caused the initial problems.
Like many Mags, I was concerned that Townsend would prove to be another limited addition to the attack, whose trademark moves – run at pace, cut inside, shoot at goal – would be easily read and picked off by Premier League defences.
On Sunday afternoon, he showed enough variation in his game to suggest that he could be a real success at Newcastle United, offering more than his mediocre predecessors.
Of the five dangerous deliveries that caused problems in the Sunderland area, Townsend was responsible for three. He also expertly teed up Perez on not one but two occasions, and, with Janmaat always keen to get forward from full-back, Andros was happy to drift inside and collect the ball in more central areas.
Neither Kirchhoff nor DeYedlin could handle his speed and quick feet, and must have been relieved to see him sprint from the field on 75 minutes, with plenty seemingly left in the tank.
Yes, he may have been partly responsible for Defoe’s opener – Shearer, Souness and Carragher were quick to accuse him of switching off, but what of the other ball-watching, ball-chasing defenders?
However, Townsend’s talents are best served at the other end of the pitch, and he was easily Newcastle’s most dangerous outlet, linking up well with the two up top.
Ironically, the only aspect missing from his game was his trademark attempts on goal, one effort charged down and another failing to test Vito Mannone.
Sam Allardyce may have wished for a winger with similar qualities within his ranks. Borini on the right caused makeshift left-back Jack Colback early problems, but neither the Italian nor counterpart Wabzi Khadri could take advantage of the fact that both full-backs were on yellows.
Even when Sissoko and Anita were occupying unfamiliar roles within the back four, the visitors failed to exploit the wide areas. You can’t help but feel that Townsend would have had a field day against defensively suspect opposition.
All in all, it was an encouraging, positive performance from the England international, who would surely give Roy Hodgson some food for thought if he could produce similarly eye-catching performances on a consistent basis.
First and foremost, however, he has to keep putting in the shifts for the Toon.
The side has been crying out for a dangerous winger for years now, with Obertan, Gouffran, Marveaux, Cabella and most recently Sissoko failing to fulfil that remit.
In Townsend, we might just have a player who can provide the kind of service that Mitrovic badly needs and hopefully so much more.
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