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Newcastle United – ‘A Championship team with a Champions League Manager’?

1 year ago
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On our way down to Burnley, we were all in agreement that if we could come away with a point then it would be a great result. This might have been a negative way of looking at things, but we all agreed it is important to maintain some perspective, and with Bournemouth up next, there was the potential there for four points that could see us jump into the top six.

Yes we may have got beat at Turf Moor on Monday night, but by god, isn’t it great that we were able to have that conversation? Especially given the fact that at this point last year, we were a Championship club. It is easy to get upset by the defeat, and especially the poor performance from the lads on Monday, but you only have to have a little look at them lot down the road to see how far we have come in only a year under Rafa Benitez.

Rafa named a side which didn’t include Hayden or Merino, which came as a surprise. With Merino suffering from a back injury, Hayden will have felt very hard done by not to start the game, especially after a good performance against Southampton. Incredibly, it was Diame who started the game alongside Shelvey, and he was predictably rubbish, but I will get onto that. Joselu started upfront, which probably says more about Dwight Gayle’s fitness and Mitrovic’ brain more than Joselu’s footballing ability.

Incredibly, this was my first visit to Burnley, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Getting the car down (to our shortest trip of the season) we stopped at a few pubs along the way, and when we got to the ground, there was a pretty good set up in the away end for fans… although £4 for a small bottle of beer isn’t great. It would turn out that a few more beers would be needed to take in this performance.

The Game

Burnley made a positive start to the game, there were a few comments around us that Newcastle would do well to make it out of the first 15 minutes. However, we dealt with the early pressure in the end and slowly, very slowly, eased their way into the game.

Christian Atsu had a half chance from a Shelvey corner but he put the ball over the bar from close range. Atsu had another one of those games where he huffed and puffed but in truth did very little. Sadly, whenever he did manage to find a few yards of space, his final ball, along with the rest of his teammates, was nothing short of terrible

Newcastle struggled to get up the pitch, often playing too deep at times, both Shelvey and Diane found themselves treading on the toes of Lascelles and Lejeune. Our only real attacking outlet came from DeAndre Yedlin on the right hand side. Although Perez did find himself in a few good positions in the first half, he made nothing of them.

The second half was much of the same, with Burnley slowly cranking up the pressure despite the fact that Newcastle still looked comfortable defensively. Even though the goal did eventually come for Burnley, Newcastle were still strong at the back, as they have been all season. Attack is the best form of defence sometimes, it is just a shame that we have no attack.

In the middle of the park, Shelvey was poor, misplacing passes, being put under pressure from a dogged Burnley midfield and simply not getting on the ball enough. Next to him Mo Diame was nothing short of terrible. I gave him a three in my match ratings, which was probably too generous. Lee Ryder gave him a five! Five! That can only be described as a sackable offence. Diame’s performance, and subsequent substitution, reminded me of our trip to Scunthorpe back in the Championship (October 2009), we were beaten 2-1 on the night, it was memorable for being Geremi’s last ever game for the Toon. When he was eventually substituted, there was a sigh of relief in the away end. If a crisis does occur in the middle of the park, and Diame is needed again, then I hope Rafa has the confidence to turn to Dan Barlaser instead.

Burnley’s goal came through weak play from Ayoze Perez. A quick glance over the comments on my match ratings, someone left a comment stating that it wasn’t his fault. Not sure what game they were watching because it was.

It was a case of too little too late by the time Benitez did make the subs. They should have been made five minutes previously. Although Newcastle did look comfortable defensively, there was an element of ‘you could feel it coming’ when Burnley did score.

Newcastle never looked like they had it in them to bounce back after that. Going into the last 15 minutes, they struggled to find that second gear – a continual problem going forward that probably won’t be addressed under Mike Ashley’s ownership. A number 9 and 10 very much needed.

Rafa

In my opinion, from my experience of seeing most NUFC games under Rafa Benitez, he never looks like he prepares his side for going a goal down. In many instances, not just Monday night, it is almost like “right, what the hell do we do now”? Surely there should be an option from the bench in case of going a goal down.

The fact that Mitrovic can’t even make the squad suggests that there is something afoot that goes beyond just his footballing ability. We all have our opinions on whether we think that he is good enough to start or lead the line, but there can be absolutely no doubt, as to the fact that he can bring you something different on the bench.

The Fans

As per usual, another incredible following on a cold night in Burnley. It was nice that the team was applauded at the end of the game. Sometimes when games are on TV it is easy for fans who don’t go to sit at home and slag off each and every player, but on the whole, I think most people recognised that it was an OK team performance.

For those of us who travel away consistently, we know all too well that we have seen a lot worse in the past five years.

Last Word

It wasn’t a good performance, but this team has its limits, especially going forward. There are always going to be performances like this throughout the season.

I tell you one thing, if our bad performances this season are scrappy 1-0 defeats where the team still gives their all, looks organised, and stays in a tight game til the end, then I think there is a lot to be positive about.

Everyone knows there is plenty to improve on, there isn’t a position in that team that can’t be improved on, but for the moment, perspective and positivity is needed.

I read today that Jamie Carragher described NUFC as a ‘championship team (in regard to the players) with a Champions League manager’ – I couldn’t agree more. So, for the moment, we aren’t doing too bad!

Keep the faith.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Burnley 1 Newcastle 0

Goals:

Burnley: Hendrick 74

Possession was Burnley 47% Newcastle 53%

Total shots were  Burnley 12 Newcastle 12

Shots on target were Burnley 5 Newcastle 5

Corners were  Burnley 5 Newcastle 3

Referee: Mike Dean

Newcastle United:

Elliot, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Manquillo, Ritchie (Murphy 79), Shelvey, Diame (Gayle 83), Atsu, Perez (Hayden 76), Joselu

Unused Subs:

Darlow, Clark, Gamez, Saivet

Crowd: 21,031 (Newcastle 2,500)

You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn
[get_involved]

(Rafa makes clear where fault lies for Burnley defeat – Read HERE)

(To read the instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the match go HERE)

(To read Jonathan’s match ratings from Monday’s defeat go HERE)

(Mikel Merino set to see a specialist – Read HERE)

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