Newcastle 0 Blackburn 1 – Saturday 26 November 3pm
Well, we are most definitely taking the cups seriously in this day and age, and bravo for that.
With Premier League Hull waiting in the league cup quarter-final, Rafa took the unprecedented step of making wholesale changes for the bread and butter of a league game, with Yedlin, Gamez, Mbemba, Hayden, Atsu and Mitrovic all brought in after the win at Leeds.
Of those names, only the largely injured Gamez might stand out as not being a fairly regular and reliable member of the first team, who you’d be more than happy to step in. Some have even been pushed as more regular starters. However, it may have been too much rotation this time, as the chance to set a club record ten straight wins went up in smoke.
The first half was the most dismal of the season. It’s maybe convenient to blame the line-up changes but from the start the problem emerged that our front two were way off the pace. Mitrovic huffed and puffed to no avail, executing air kicks, producing weak shots and generally failing to impose himself on a physical Blackburn defence that he should have relished battling. Perez behind him was considerably worse, seemingly petrified of the imposing visitors as he consistently destroyed attacks with poor balls or by being caught in possession.
With no presence up front, there was always going to be a problem getting going. Ritchie and Atsu both had disjointed games in midfield, and while Shelvey was the most effective attacking player, he was still below his own high standards for the season.
Blackburn by contrast played a steady, measured game, going through the basics and suckering Newcastle into playing their way, as long balls forward were unwisely blootered up to the static Mitro and won every time by the dominant Rovers defence.
After the dredge of the first period, the opening to the second half was almost exciting by comparison. Chances started to come as Shelvey’s deflected shot was pushed around the post by Steele and Clark seemed shocked to find himself with a tap-in that he managed to fudge up from three yards. After a solid ten minutes, the momentum was undone by two substitutions.
First, Gamez had to be withdrawn after lengthy treatment for a shoulder injury, with the rested Dummett not achieving a week off. To be fair to Dummy his first action was to produce a fine cross to present Ritchie with a golden opportunity, only for the Scotsman to go for power over accuracy and smash the ball into the Gallowgate end. However, the stoppage seemed to have cost United some momentum.
Moments later another substitution saw that momentum claimed, as Marvin Emnes entered for Blackburn with the clear intention of steaming at our defence at every opportunity. This created an outlet for Blackburn balls and Emnes created total havoc down their left wing. The pressure led to a string of corners, many of which were avoidable – and a crucial one of which was incorrect – before Mulgrew connected to send one past Darlow despite a valiant effort to beat it out.
With 15 minutes left plus an obvious stoppage for the Gamez injury, all was not lost. However, there was a sense that United could play till midnight and not find a goal. The introduction of Gayle seemed too little too late, although he almost rescued the situation, breaking and squaring for Mitrovic, who failed to connect and adding his name to the list of off-targeteers when blasting Ritchie’s cross well over from close range.
Frustrating indeed and a harsh reminder that we are more than capable of this kind of bad day at the office. This was particularly hammered home by all results going against us to close the respective gaps, the exception being the continuing slide of Norwich.
We need to ensure that this does not become the pack of cards collapse the Canaries have endured, rather another shrugged-off setback as with the Wolves defeat. I am pleased with the pragmatic response that most Mags seem to be displaying, and the sensible attitude of looking straight to Hull for redemption.
Much as I endorse this excellent “battle on all fronts” mantra, I can’t help but feel this was the more important game.
A semi-final to look forward to would be amazing, but with a likely last four of Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal awaiting the winner of our tie, the Championship does feel like the more likely route of success.
With two games in the space of four weekdays, there’s every chance to show we can do everything and hopefully this rather miserable game will not register a flicker in the scheme of the season overall.
Bounce back please.
Here are the stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 0 Blackburn 1
Blackburn: Mulgrew 75
Possession was Blackburn 34% Newcastle 66%
Total shots were Blackburn 10 Newcastle 14
Shots on target were Blackburn 2 Newcastle 2
Corners were Blackburn 9 Newcastle 8
Newcastle starting 11:
Darlow, Yedlin, Clark, Mbemba (Gayle 85), Gamez (Dummett 55), Hayden, Shelvey, Atsu, Ritchie, Perez, Mitrovic
Sels, Lascelles, Anita, Diame, Gouffran
Referee: David Coote