Newcastle United really missed Mohamed Diame against Cardiff City.
Glad to get that off my chest.
We also missed Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie, though not for maybe the obvious reasons that are coming into your heads.
I think Cardiff were probably the worst team so far this season to visit St James Park, any hopes that they did have were stamped on with Atsu’s goal after only three minutes.
The visiting players visibly deflated in front of our eyes as they obviously dreaded what the next 87 minutes plus stoppage time was going to bring them.
The only problem being, that early goal also seemed to have a negative impact on the home players.
Yes Newcastle were easily on top for the entirety of the first half but they clearly felt that they didn’t need to get out of first gear to do it.
It was embarrassing how easy it was to move the ball around as the labouring Cardiff players made it so easy for United, the lumbering Rickie Lambert summing up how little pressure the visitors exerted on the game. Newcastle players were finding space to receive the ball in the Cardiff half without an opposition player within five yards of them. It was like a practice/friendly match where agreement had been reached not to risk any injuries by getting too close.
The ease with which Newcastle controlled things led to such a relaxed first half display, that when chances were missed and attacking moves broke down, it felt like those on the pitch were thinking ‘what’s the problem, what’s the worst that can happen’?
When Yoan Gouffran and DeAndre Yedlin combined to send Newcastle in two up at the break, with the second real quality move of the game, it looked a perfect platform to run up a serious scoreline against a hopeless opposition.
However, that same relaxed laidback attitude continued as Newcastle found it initially so easy to move the ball around and open up the visitors, easy chances going begging with Mitrovic the worst culprit.
Not scoring the goals when on top is the cardinal sin and as hopeless as Cardiff were, they slightly unbelievably started to get into the game and create chances.
This is where we really missed Mohamed Diame and to a slightly lesser extent, Gayle and Ritchie.
It was embarrassing how easy Cardiff found it to move the ball around themselves, under minimal pressure from the Newcastle players, particularly the front players. Atsu wasn’t too bad but he has nowhere near the workrate of Matt Ritchie.
As for Perez and Mitrovic….the people’s champion had some moments in attack and in his link up play, particularly when setting up the opening goal, but he gives next to nothing when the opposition have the ball. He has looked slightly more mobile in these last few matches but he is still more of a Rickie Lambert (or Chamakh, Lambert’s sloth-like replacement) than the non-stop running of Dwight Gayle.
Ayoze Perez – totally anonymous going forward and his lack of pace is a real weakness in his game, as for helping to try and stop the momentum Cardiff were building up, he was a waste of space.
This is where Mohamed Diame would have never let us down, even in those last few minutes after he came on, Diame showed the rest what closing down the opposition really means. A number of times he forced the Cardiff players back as he harried them non-stop.
Rafa’s work ethic demands so much more than Mitrovic, Perez and Atsu could or would give yesterday. Even at Championship level against one of the worst teams in the division, you can’t let the opposition stroll from the back and get the ball up to dangerous areas without giving them a really hard time doing it.
With the likes of Gayle, Diame and Ritchie on the pitch, my betting would have been that Newcastle would have repeatedly caught the opposition in possession and helped set in motion any number of dangerous situations and almost certainly goals.
United got away with it yesterday but would be lucky to do so against a team that was even marginally better.
I think Rafa Benitez will have learnt an awful lot from this match and not a lot of it good.