When NUFC kicked off against Fulham, optimism was high and the mood was effervescent amongst most Newcastle fans. Not to the point of being cocky (we know where that gets us) but it’s fair to say that the average fan could see this season as one we should enjoy, compete in and even if we miss out on promotion, at least the drudgery of the last three or four Premier League seasons will be vanquished.
Not so. Far be it for me to be negative after only two games…but there are some causes for grave concern.
The first cause is an obvious one, we (still) seem very powder puff in attack, it’s all well and good having oodles of possession as we did against Huddersfield and to a lesser extent down at Fulham, but if your midfield is as lacking as it was over the course of 180 minutes, where are the goals coming from?
I got tired of counting the passes across the defensive four on Saturday, with the full-backs shifting the ball to the centre-backs and back again, adding in a pass to the far too deep Shelvey for variety on the odd occasion, only for the midfielder to lose the ball or pass the ball out for a throw in/goal kick.
Put simply, the midfield still hasn’t been sorted and we’ve been waiting since Yohan Cabaye left. Only when Matt Ritchie was introduced at half-time did we see anything resembling creativity. His fleet of foot wing play down the right was great to see and hopefully, if a foil can be found on the left hand side, we should have a great balance there, but only if the central pairing is right, because in Jonjo Shelvey and Vurnon Anita – it isn’t.
I’m hoping that this creative or attacking threat from the middle can come from Mohamed Diame, but based on his display against Huddersfield, I could have been forgiven in thinking that Moussa Sissoko had tied him up, locked him in a cupboard in the changing room and ran out himself, such was the lifeless and disinterested debut I saw.
The other major alarm bell to ring at the weekend was the goal right before half-time, making the second half an uphill battle and then conceding the winner in the last ten minutes, making all three goals against this season down to a simple lack of concentration.
Now I could forgive this to a point if we were in the lead, or we were peppering the opposition left right and centre, but against Huddersfield we were lucky to be 0-0 and had barely mustered an attack worthy of the name when Nahki Wells scored. In fact, between myself and the people sat in the immediate vicinity, we called the goal a couple of minutes before it went in, it was that obvious.
So we don’t attack very often, the midfield neither protects the back four nor does it burst forward to help the forward/s, and the back four passes among themselves as they don’t have the confidence in what is in front of them. Work in progress then.
The other major problem I see is a tricky one and due to what Rafa Benitez has been forced to do in such a short space of time. I think we have probably signed too many players, with more to follow. You can’t just sign a whole new team and expect it to gel instantly, it’s going to take time and at least the bubble has burst now and not later, whilst say a promotion charge is in full swing.
There is still time to sort the side out and recover the ground lost in the two opening games and I still have faith in Rafa to get it right, even if that means we don’t go up this season. It may take a season or more to get back to the Premier League, that’s the predicament we find ourselves in through bad management over the last four seasons.
The one thing that has shone above all else over the last few months since Rafa has come on board was again on show in all it’s glory last Saturday. It was a great feeling to witness the Gallowgate End against Huddersfield with numerous flags on display and the fans across the whole ground joined in, in the moment. Who would have thought this was a club that had just been relegated, it was as if the fans were welcoming their team back from a cup win. But then, although we always know our fans would react like this, it was still a special sight to see.
With the Newcastle fans in tow, a quality manager pulling the strings, and the recruitment model seemingly changed for the better, the basis for success can’t be ignored.
The shirt surely can’t weigh as heavy as some pundits and former players have hinted at. The burden of not winning anything in so long should be a challenge to any manager or player here, strength of character is required and it’s up to the players to step up in the remaining 44 games, starting on Wednesday against Reading.
Everything else is now in place.
Howay the lads.