The ups and downs of the season continued for Newcastle United on Monday night against Burnley and the same story unfolded, as seven outfield players did their jobs but crucially three didn’t. It’s now becoming a familiar tale, the one area of the field we are glaringly lacking is the attacking third.
Put simply, if you start with a combination of Joselu and Perez (I would also throw in Diame) you are at least a man down from the start. Against Crystal Palace we got away with it but this won’t happen every week.
I think most fans believe that Ayoze Perez has some ability, but that ability is sadly not showing itself at the minute, and the problem is in part to do with the system that the team plays and in an even larger part, down to the player who he is being asked to support in Joselu.
Rafa Benitez has stated this week that he is happy with the efforts of Perez and Joselu and that we must look to the work both do that doesn’t involve scoring goals, that’s fine, but I think his comments are more based on the fact that results have been coming despite what little we have been seeing from the pair of them. If results start to slide then their efforts surely can’t be enough, strikers are there to score goals.
When the ball get played up to a lone striker, the lone striker has to be strong, physical, and above all else, clinical. The ball must stick like glue and the opposing defenders must know after 90 minutes that they’ve been in a game. His strike rate must be along the lines of one goal in three chances or better. At present, if Joselu were to get ten chances I wouldn’t be confident that he would score one.
That has an effect on the rest of the team, if you have no confidence in the big man up top to put the ball in the back of the net and he isn’t going to offer an outlet to the side when under pressure, there is no point in him being in the side as the whole side is going to be constantly under the cosh.
The best of defences can’t hold out all the time. That is what happened at Turf Moor, no more – no less. We weren’t beaten by a better side in terms of quality and that’s no disrespect to Burnley, we simply showed them too much respect.
Now, I don’t want to continue the Joselu bashing, but it was about half an hour into the Burnley match when I cast my mind back and wondered why the hell we have signed a striker of his quality and pedigree for so cheap and from a Premier League rival. Was there no better?
I tell you what, Daryl Murphy would be making a better fist of things in this league. A few minutes later and I suddenly realised ‘Hang on a minute, we’ve signed the wrong Stoke City striker!’ I said to the company I was with, that if you were to start Peter Crouch in place of Joselu, or even have him as an option to bring on, this side would take off. Cue derision and dismissive glances in my direction but I meant it and still stand by it today, even after the alcohol has worn off.
Putting aside the defeat, there is a trend that has crept into football more and more over the years, ensure that you don’t lose the game and at least stay 0-0 until the last half an hour, then you can decide if you want to go on and try to win it, or hold for the draw.
I’ve always said ‘never knock an away point’ but banking on an away draw is all well and good when it works, or even better when it harvests three points like it did down at Swansea, but it can come back to bite you like when we lost at Huddersfield, Brighton and now Burnley. Like I’ve said, no disrespect to those teams, but I would expect at least three points out of that trio of games, either from one standalone game, or aggregated out over the set. We’ve got none. If we’d gone for it a bit more in the three games, I’m sure we would have won at least one.
I’ve heard a few fans saying that they’d like to see a more flowing Newcastle team and while I think the shackles could be let off in certain games, Rafa has certainly instilled something that I haven’t seen for a Newcastle side in my lifetime, a bit of defensive assurance. I don’t see us getting smashed off anyone and for years we’ve been crying out for a manager to bring such qualities to a Newcastle team, so I don’t think fans can grumble when one comes along and sorts out the defence, which Rafa undeniably has done and on a budget too.
I think a lot of fans are guilty of Match of the Day syndrome, whereby anyone watching a highlights package could instantly believe that they were watching a good game when actually, if you watched the full 90 minutes, you would struggle to find ten minutes that really stood out as entertaining to watch. I was guilty of this when I was a kid, switching from watching the highlights at home to watching a match live, I discovered that there are periods where not a lot happens.
Under Kevin Keegan or Bobby Robson, how many games were barnstorming 5-2s or 4-0s? Granted there were a few but there were a few nervy 1-0s as well, games that would be bottom of the bill on a Saturday night. The difference then was we always had some quality to finish off chances and better quality to fashion the chances in the first place.
Now, our chances will be at a premium so we need to get the best available player to do just that and despite the fact he is a disciplinary risk, Aleksandar Mitrovic is the best Premier League striker we have. It’s either take the chance on his temperament, or continue with the paucity and powder puff attack that we’ve seen so far.
We have got by with this current set-up so far through hard graft but you can’t get away with just that every week. At some point, quality will need to be brought into the side. It will take big finances to fund the striker we require, which won’t happen under the current owner, so we have to sit tight and wait for the reported takeover to occur before we get the top man that Rafa wants in.
In the short-term, all this can be put right with three points against Bournemouth on Saturday, to do that we need goals. So there needs to be some work done on the training ground this week and/or a change in personnel up front, otherwise it will be another game we are needlessly sweating on.