3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Newcastle 1 Wolves 2
Sunday afternoon ended Newcastle 1 Wolves 2.
Newcastle making a poor start to the game and going behind on 17 minutes, only to then use that as a wake up call, equalising and going into the break slightly the better team.
The visitors snatching an injury time winner.
The Editor asked me beforehand to write about 3 positives and 3 negatives from the game, so here goes…
Leading the Line
Having invoked the spirit of Les Ferdinand for his towering header in the win over Bournemouth, some positively Shearer-esque play from Salomón Rondón led to our goal and was the highlight of another impressive performance.
Finally match-fit after a stop-start autumn and brimming with confidence after his midweek goal at Goodison Park, Rondón summoned his best Big Al impression as he thundered a vicious free kick off the underside of the Gallowgate End crossbar and quickly seized upon the rebound to whip a fantastic right-wing cross in for Ayoze Pérez to head in our equaliser.
Often isolated and deprived of support, Rondón put in a mammoth shift and led the line superbly from the very first minute when he was unlucky not to score the opener after chesting down a high cross and volleying on goal.
Newcastle’s direct style suited him and he proved a useful focal point as he battled hard and won more than his fair share of balls lofted in towards him.
The frustration for Rondón, for Rafa Benítez, and for those watching on, was that his team-mates were rarely in a position to take advantage of his good work but his impressive showing surely shows the way forward.
Safe Pair of Hands
It was in Shay Given’s heyday that I last remember having such total faith and quiet confidence in a Newcastle goalkeeper.
A stunning point-blank save from Martin Dúbravka helped us secure a point against Everton during the week and he was his usual reliable self once more against Wolves and didn’t deserve to be on the losing side, after a number of crucial interventions that looked to have helped Newcastle battle their way to a valuable point.
An assured performance between the sticks for the Slovakian stopper is now so commonplace, that it’s almost taken for granted, but talk of interest from Juventus shows that he’s not without his admirers.
A genuine all-rounder with the humility and attitude to match, Dúbravka has long since won over the Geordie faithful despite not having even spent a year on Tyneside yet.
The Toon Army will be hoping that this is just the first year of many but, as was the case with Shay Given, any mutual love and appreciation between Dúbravka and the fans will count for nothing if Mike Ashley decides to play hardball.
Credit Where It’s Due
While we’re all acutely aware of the limitations and shortcomings of the likes of Ayoze Pérez and Christian Atsu, there are days when you can’t help but applaud them for their work rate and endeavour.
There is no doubt that neither player would be anywhere near the first team if our owner had any genuine interest in improving our club but the fact that they find themselves thrust into the starting team for a team battling relegation is not their fault and, as such, it’s not really fair to criticise their lack of ability. Criticising them for lack of effort or application, however, is fair game and, so, it was pleasing to see both players run themselves into the ground against Wolves and give their all for the cause.
With Pérez regularly – and often deservedly – singled out for lacklustre performances and Atsu coming under fire for his lack of end product, surely neither player can help but be aware that the fans don’t rate them. So, it is to their immense credit that they pulled their socks up and put in a solid shift – Pérez netting with a neat header and Atsu arguably having his best game for Newcastle.
While his generally solid performances over the last couple of seasons mean that he has built up enough goodwill to avoid – or, at least, delay – a backlash from the fans, Jamaal Lascelles’ recent downward trajectory reached a low point on Sunday afternoon. He endured a torrid day at the office and was hugely to blame for the first goal, while doing little to help prevent the sickening second. He looked clumsy and off-the-pace all game and gave away a number of fouls in dangerous areas and sold Dúbravka dangerously short with a back pass near the end.
There was genuine surprise at Lascelles’s omission from some of Gareth Southgate’s England squads last spring, and again this autumn, but the decision to overlook the Newcastle skipper now seems easier to understand.
A recent argument with Rafa Benítez over his role in the back three – incidentally, a system he seems ill-at-ease in – showed his petulant streak and with his absence from the side coinciding with a recent upturn in fortune, it’s not unfair to suggest that Lascelles may actually be causing more problems than he’s solving. With this summer’s new central defensive pair of Fernández and Schär in impressive form and Florian Lejeune now nearing full fitness, it will be interesting to see what Rafa decides to do.
The idea of a trip to St James Park being a daunting prospect for visiting sides is, sadly, a remnant of a bygone era. Far from being an imposing fortress, Sunday’s defeat leaves Newcastle with a shockingly depressing home record that reads: Played 9, Won 2, Lost 7.
Defeats against top sides are as accepted as they are expected but it’s defeats like this one that really hurt. As impressive a side as Wolves are, they are still one of the league’s newly-promoted teams and, as such, should represent one of our best chances of picking up three points.
Yes, things could have turned out very differently had Mike Dean awarded us a penalty, or shown more leniency towards Yedlin, but the words ‘aunt’, ‘balls’ and ‘uncle’ spring to mind as I sit here typing.
While we may well manage to take all three points from next weekend’s trip to Huddersfield, home form will still be key if we are to pull away from trouble and avoid another relegation dogfight in the springtime and Rafa and the boys really need to do something to bring about a change in our fortunes.
Nice to know, then, that Aleksandar Mitrovic’ Fulham are our next visitors to St James Park….
While DeAndre Yedlin’s dismissal definitely had a massive impact on the course of the game, that it altered Rafa’s game plan in any way is less clear.
With Kenedy and Paul Dummett both declared fit on Friday, it was disappointing that neither one was reintroduced to the starting line-up but it was assumed that they might see some action in the second half. So, it was to everyone’s great surprise then that Rafa turned to Javier Manquillo when Federico Fernández was unable to carry on after half-time.
It seemed a counter-intuitively baffling move; shunting Yedlin out of position and maintaining the wing back system with square pegs in round holes, instead of going to a flat back four and having players play in more natural positions.
As with the Everton game on Wednesday night, it nearly paid dividends but with ten-man Newcastle battling on for nearly half an hour before making a change, it was disappointing to see Rondón replaced with Joselu yet again – Muto staying on the bench and an exhausted Ayoze Pérez also left on to see out the final few minutes.
Moments later Kenedy was finally introduced in place of the flagging Atsu and he looked lively during his brief cameo, leaving fans wondering why he wasn’t introduced earlier.
Jacob Murphy’s exclusion from the matchday squad in the wake of a decent performance and assist at Everton was also a strange one.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Wolves 2
Newcastle: Perez 23 (Yedlin red card 57)
Wolves: Jota 17, Doherty 90+4
Possession was Wolves 49% Newcastle 51%
Total shots were Wolves 13 Newcastle 12
Shots on target were Wolves 6 Newcastle 4
Corners were Wolves 6 Newcastle 4
Referee: Mike Dean
Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez (Manquillo 46), Clark, Ritchie, Diame, Ki, Atsu (Kenedy 89), Rondon (Joselu 86), Perez
Woodman, Longstaff, Muto, Dummett
Crowd: 50,223 (Wolves 3,000)
(Read the instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the defeat HERE)
(Read the NUFC player match ratings HERE)
(Nuno Espirito Santo verdict HERE)
(Wolves pundit admits on Sky Sports that Newcastle were cheated – Read HERE)
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