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Match Reports

Don’t understand why Rafa Benitez is still sticking it out here

1 year ago
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Even by Newcastle United’s standards, it has been a bizarre, somewhat roller-coaster month. Naturally, a a simple 1-0 win at home to Burnley was never going to happen, was it?

Not for the first time this season, there was a strange atmosphere around before the game with more of us in the Beehive (of all pre-match pubs) spending our time refreshing our twitter feeds, rather than focusing on the upcoming game. I am not going to go on a rant about transfers but it begs the question, if we were that invested in our own twitter feeds before the game, how could Rafa have given 100% to fielding a team when trying to sign players at the same time?

Anyway, this was a big game. I find myself saying before every game that this is a must win, but we really are getting into must win territory now, especially given the fact that we have a very tough end to the season. This was another ‘must win’ that we didn’t win, which not only heaps more pressure on the team to get a result on Sunday against Crystal Palace, but heaps instant pressure on the new guys, especially Slimani, to come in and perform straight away. A tough ask.

I probably could have copy and pasted a lot of this match report from previous games this season. I feel like I have seen that exact same game before at SJP this season. A decent start, failure to take lots of chances, hit the woodwork, concede through poor defending/set pieces. Predictable and inevitable.

The Match

Newcastle started the game well, we created a few chances, had Burnley penned back in their own half, and reduced them to long balls up the pitch. Kenedy looks like a half decent player, as well as having pace and a bit of skill, he isn’t half a unit as well! He nearly had a debut to remember after his strike hit the post… it perhaps went unnoticed that Atsu missed an absolute sitter with the rebound from Kenedy’s strike.

As for Atsu, I thought he had a really bad night at the office. He looked tired even, this was highlighted by losing an out and out race with Kevin Long! He will have to improve, with Kennedy coming in, Murphy improving in form and Ritchie there too, his good form over Christmas seems like a while ago now.

A penalty eventually came (when was our last Premier League penalty?? I can’t remember, I am sure someone like Chris Holt will have the stat for that) as Bardsley brought down Kenedy in the box and it looked like we would go 1-0 up in front of the Gallowgate. Joselu would fail to convert the penalty as a weak strike coupled with Pope guessing the right way, left him with his head in his hands.

I had a disagreement with a fella on the way home who said Joselu shouldn’t have been anywhere near the penalty and Lascelles should have stepped in to say ‘no you’re not taking it’. However, for me, if your centre forward and your top scorer (albeit with four goals) isn’t grabbing the ball after a penalty is given, then I would be worried. I had no problems with him taking the penalty.

Lascelles finally put us 1-0 up with a mountain of a header. Fair play to him, you can’t ask much more from your skipper than what he gives us.

What was evident, is that Burnley are a massive side. That is the first time that I have really seen Lascelles bullied by a bigger, stronger striker. In all the times I have been critical of him, it is because he has been caught in behind being unable to deal with pace, or too hesitant. After watching Burnley last night, I can actually understand why Chelsea were supposedly taking a look at Ashley Barnes.

Even though they didn’t look like scoring, the Burnley equaliser came as no surprise. It has become almost inevitable under this side, especially after the Joselu miss that would have wrapped the game up for us. I was slightly disappointed with the naivety of the Newcastle defence for the corner. I have played at a pretty high level, and when you are up against a big team, what they want from set-pieces is as few players in the box as possible in order to get a clearer run at the ball.

Burnley out-tricked us by taking a man over for a short corner, of which they had absolutely no intention of ever playing. What this did was drag two NUFC players out of the box, thus giving their big players more space to be able to attack the ball when it came in. When the box is crowded, it’s almost impossible to beat your man sometimes, or find space for a free header. However, Newcastle allowed themselves to go man for man in a box filled with space and they were punished by a bigger side.

What made the goal even more sickening was Phil Bardsley giving it the big one in front of the home fans. Although, I am sure he had been waiting since the return game at Turf Moor for that moment, as the Newcastle away end didn’t half shower him with abuse that night as he warmed up in front of them.

Such a frustrating end to a game, after such a frustrating month.

Rafa Benitez

Eight changes were made from the side that went out of the FA Cup at the weekend. I just don’t think that this is sustainable going into the end of the season. For me, Rafa has to find his best team as quickly as possible.

In the middle of the park I thought Diame was brilliant, he could actually be a ‘new signing’ if playing to the level he did last night. Alongside Merino, I thought the two of them worked really well together.

On the day, Slimani has come in, along with a goalkeeper who even I’ve never heard of and I play football manager! So let’s hope he is half decent. My girlfriend’s family are all Leicester season ticket holders who speak highly of Slimani. His problem was that he just didn’t fit into the Leicester way of playing, often he was brought in to replace Vardy, and he just doesn’t have the pace to do what Vardy does. Not a case of a flop, maybe just the right player at the wrong club, at the wrong time. Here’s hoping we are the right club for him at the moment.

For Rafa, this month has been a disaster on all fronts. I have to be honest, and I have spoken to a lot of people who have given a wide range of opinions on this, but I just don’t understand why Rafa Benitez is still sticking it out here.

The Fans

I think the guys behind the flags got the message spot on. This game had the potential to provide a really negative atmosphere but the banners showed a message that we are still going to get behind the team.

As for Joselu, he hasn’t half got some stick from some sections of the crowd. He is rubbish in front of goal, I think most of us can agree on that. But his hold play is ok, he wins his fair share in the air, he tries, he presses the backline, his movement is good too. Yes, he isn’t good enough, I know, we all know. But I tell you what, I would take 100 Joselus playing for my football club compared to some of the w…… we have had through these gates down the years.

Last Bit

I am over the PCP takeover for now. If they really wanted to buy the club, as Staveley so desperately said in her interview with Caulkin, then I like to think they would have stumped up the extra 50 odd million (which I find doubly strange given that she was quoting numbers of around 250 million investments, after buying, in the interview). I would rather she took 100 of that 250 and bought the club.

Anyway, all takeover talk is just talk, and I honestly don’t believe that either side give a monkeys about the fans in any of this.

Finally, it is a point I have reiterated time and again over the past month. For those who do consider giving up or not supporting the team… you only have to look 12 miles down the road to see what happens to a club whose supporters have completely given up. Sunderland’s predicament should be a reminder to all of us to keep going and keep fighting.

Keep the Faith.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Newcastle 1 Burnley 1

Goals:

Newcastle: Lascelles 65

Burnley: Darlow OG 85

Possession was Burnley 48% Newcastle 52%

Total shots were  Burnley 11 Newcastle 14

Shots on target were Burnley 2 Newcastle 4

Corners were  Burnley 4 Newcastle 7

Referee: Simon Hooper

Newcastle United:

Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Atsu (Murphy 64), Diame, Merino, Kenedy (Ritchie 72), Perez (Gayle 85), Joselu

Unused Subs:

Woodman, Shelvey, Manquillo, Hayden,

Crowd: 50,174

(Read the instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the Burnley match HERE)

(There were 8 loan deals in and out of Newcastle on deadline day – Details HERE)

(Newcastle fans protest against Mike Ashley with quality Flags protest – Read HERE)

(Read the match ratings for each Newcastle player HERE)

(Paul Merson’s verdict on Newcastle’s January transfer window – Read HERE)

(Read Sean Dyche’s reaction to the match HERE)

You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn
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