The result of the game and injury to Aleksandar Mitrovic grabbed all the headlines but the experimental formation Rafa Benitez used at Birmingham slipped in almost unnoticed in the reports post-match.
The question is whether this was a one-off through circumstances and players available, or is the United boss looking at a better way of attacking the second half of the Championship season?
Rafa Benitez put Massadio Haidara and Grant Hanley alongside Jamaal Lascelles in a back three/five, with DeAndre Yedlin and Achraf Lazaar playing as wing-backs.
Despite the injury to Mitrovic, Newcastle were the better side in the first half and could have had the game won before the break, Birmingham scoring with pretty much their first serious opportunity of the game just before half-time.
Newcastle weren’t brilliant but maybe the 3-5-2 formation is worthy of more than a one-off.
Grant Hanley certainly thought the change in tactics/formation helped the team and said they ‘felt comfortable’, despite Rafa having made eight changes, though later in the match substitutions meant United then reverted back to a 4-4-2.
Newcastle have arguably become too predictable and teams happy to sit back and let United have the ball, with the likes of Blackburn, Sheffield Wednesday and others having notched wins against the Magpies.
At Blackburn on Monday, Newcastle were totally dominant but all too often the ball ended up with Anita and Dummett in forward positions and the full-backs were atrocious in attempting to add anything in the attacking third.
Obviously we all hope that January brings one or two valuable additions to the squad but I do find the idea appealing, of using Lazaar and Yedlin as wing-backs with Clark and probably Dummett in alongside Lascelles, then Shelvey having those extra wide options to ping balls out to, with the likes of Atsu, Ritchie and potential new signing(s) having the freedom to come inside and provide more of a varied threat.
Grant Hanley speaking to the club website:
“The system was different – it’s not something we’ve really done before – but we felt comfortable.
“Especially during stages in the first half, we were on top – I don’t know how many balls flew along their six yard box but we could have put the game to bed early doors.
“Later on in the game, we went back to a 4-4-2, it’s all about adapting and using your brain. The manager is very thorough in the way he wants us to play.
“We’re still in the competition, and we still have a chance to move forward. It was going to be difficult – there were a lot of changes and there were a number of lads who haven’t played a lot of football, trying to go out there and impress.
“It’s still positive and hopefully at home we can get a win and move on.
“I’ve not played a lot, I was injured for a while, so the main thing was to get through without dropping any clangers, and I managed to do that
“It just takes one second to score a goal, so as a centre-half, you have to make sure you’re on your toes. When you haven’t played a lot of football, it’s important to stay focussed and concentrate.
“It was frustrating being in the treatment room every day. I was itching to get back involved with the lads. There’s no better feeling than being around the squad, especially when you’re winning.
“The team have done so well this year and it’s a great place to be, a great place to come in every day. I’m happy to get involved again.
“The advantage we have is that we have a big squad. When you’ve got cup games, the manager makes changes and the lads who haven’t been playing have a point to prove, so it’s good for everybody all round.
“We feel we have a strong squad, strong enough to challenge in any competition we play in.
“Cup games are big for us, it’s a chance to impress and compete for a place in the next stage of a competition.”