Well that’s the run ended then but it’s still another important week in the life of Newcastle United.
I think Rafa Benitez has learnt far more over the 90 minutes against Blackburn than he has over any of the wins he has presided over during the recent winning run. Whilst the referee didn’t help matters once again, proving the quality of officiating is indeed a few levels lower than Premier League standard, I’m sure Rafa’s trust in some of his own players who underperformed this weekend won’t be totally eroded, but I’m sure he won’t make as many changes again.
Upon hearing the side read out to me over a Guinness pre-match, I had to inspect the pint glass to see if something hadn’t been slipped into it without me noticing.
‘What?’ and ‘Is he playing a reserve side?’ were my immediate responses, but the consensus among the people I was with, was that this line-up should be good enough to beat a struggling Blackburn. Then still have enough in reserve for Tuesday night and if things aren’t going to plan, the bench was looking bloody good anyway.
My fears came to pass that too many changes would cost us, with the back four in particular being ripped up, and as a consequence we looked sloppy at the back and even Karl Darlow looked at sea at times, punching when he would normally catch.
As soon as I heard that captain Jamaal Lascelles was on the bench I was concerned, no doubt Rafa looking to give him a break ahead of Hull and Nottingham Forest next week. Jesus Gamez starting at left back was as strange as it was unnecessary. The criticism I normally hear of Paul Dummett always leaves me scratching my head and despite the former being unlucky to leave the field on a stretcher, the latter is far and away our best left back at this level.
To make one change in the defence could be forgiven, to make two was a risk, but to make three was foolhardy. Moreover, I’m yet to be convinced by Chancel Mbemba and it’s not lost on me that he hasn’t featured at all in our winning run.
Further forward, I was actually looking forward to seeing Atsu and Ritchie fly down the wings and put balls in for Mitro and Perez, with a good pairing of Shelvey and Hayden backing them up. Well that was at 2:30pm and by 4:00pm I was looking at the bench and wondering how long it would be before Gouffran and Gayle were stripped and thrown on, in place of the chronically underperforming Perez and a frustrating Mitrovic.
That it took until 10 minutes after going behind to throw Dwight Gayle on, was confusing to me and I’m sure to many others. The whole set-up wasn’t working all afternoon and at around 70 minutes I think Rafa was settling for a point under the circumstances.
The second when Blackburn scored, Gouffran and Gayle should have been thrown on and a rescue mission mounted. For every three points we get away from St James Park, it’s a waste if we follow it up with a defeat at home and on 74 minutes, I wouldn’t have been too disappointed with a draw.
If anything came out of this game, it was that the players that didn’t start, or didn’t feature at all, had their reputations greatly enhanced. With Mitrovic showing why Gayle is top goal scorer and Perez continuing where he leaves off in every game, in the sense that I fail to see what he actually does.
I even came away from this game with a higher opinion of Diame who didn’t feature, such was the lack of movement and creativity from the front, that only Shelvey was able to continue pulling strings to forwards that were either static or nowhere near where his passes were going.
All in all, a bad day at the office was had and my general opinion afterwards was, if we beat Hull and get something, even a draw, on the Trent next Friday, the tinkering and rotation that has proved successful thus far this season will have been worth it.
A 0-1 loss at home to Blackburn is as frustrating as it is annoying, especially in retrospect with the changes that weren’t wholly needed. We are by far and away the best team in this league and a home defeat doesn’t change that, but in the same respect, we can be beaten and we will be beaten again. It’s how we react afterwards and if we go on another long run then Saturday will be long forgotten.
A small note of thanks goes out to BBC Radio Newcastle’s Mick Lowes, who before kick-off gave a toast to fans for continuing to support this basket case of a club. Let’s hope that with Mick’s pledge that the likes of Sir Bobby, Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan’s own relationships with this club’s supporters were the reason for their eventual return to these parts, his follow up of Rafa Benitez plotting a course to Championship title glory actually happens and he can then on do what the others failed and win us a ‘proper’ trophy in years to come.
Over the 25 years he has commentated on the club, he never had the chance to report on a Newcastle manager and captain lifting one, (If we get to Wembley, any chance of a one off return?) but all the same his voice will still be missed from the airwaves. A truly brilliant commentator.