Wednesday night ended Newcastle United 0 Manchester United 2.

Newcastle more or less holding their own in the first half and getting in a few decent positions but not quite able to exploit a fragile visiting defence.

Then ironically the most reliable of the home players, Martin Dubravka ended up gifting the vital first goal.

The Editor asked me beforehand to write about 3 positives and 3 negatives from the game, so here goes…

POSITIVES

Jonjo Shelvey

Despite his rash tackle on Paul Pogba showing that his petulant streak unfortunately remains undiminished, there’s no denying that Jonjo Shelvey’s introduction brought about a vast improvement in Newcastle’s forward play.

Tepid and unimaginative in attack for the first half, Newcastle were a different animal with Shelvey on the field. Happy to get on the ball, look for a pass and at least try to make things happen, the former Swansea man’s vision and speed of thought gave us a new dimension in attack.

While some of his more ambitious passes went astray and we ultimately couldn’t make the breakthrough, Shelvey’s cameo was a timely reminder of what he’s capable of and, while his temperament remains suspect, there can be no doubt that we look a more threatening and creative team when he’s playing.

With Ki now away on international duty, Pérez continuing to flounder and Kenedy looking badly out of sorts, flair and creativity are in worryingly short supply and we’ve never needed an in-form Shelvey as badly as we do now. Here’s hoping he can step up to the plate.

Christian Atsu

Never a first team regular since joining the club, Christian Atsu has recently found himself thrust into the limelight, starting 6 of our last 7 games and he was probably our best player last night.

Always a willing runner, the Ghanaian winger found himself in the thick of the action over and over again as he broke from deep and looked to link up with Rondón in attack – managing a team high of five shots himself as well as attempting numerous crosses into the danger area. He was also unlucky not to be awarded a penalty on the hour mark when he was bundled over in the area at the Gallowgate End.

Often seen by fans as a bit of a passenger and not good enough to be relied on as a regular starter, it is to his credit that he hasn’t let his head drop and continues to give his all when Rafa picks him.

In a team just waiting for someone to take them by the scruff of the neck, it’s heartening to see that Atsu isn’t shirking his responsibilities and is at least trying to make things happen for us in attack – which is more than can be said for others in the side.

Hope Springs Eternal

While disputes and discussions about boycotts rage on amongst the fanbase, that Newcastle sold out a televised game just after Christmas shows that, rightly or wrongly, the devotion of the fans remains undiminished.

Attendances are slightly down on past seasons but still hover around the 49K mark and the full 52K crammed into St James’ Park last night despite Newcastle having as much chance of winning, as a teetotaller has of going to Magaluf on holidays.

Football really and truly is a religion, a way of life and an all-encompassing passion on Tyneside and, while things are currently looking bleak and in danger of getting a whole lot worse, the silver lining of the Mike Ashley cloud is that, try as he might, he still hasn’t killed our spirits. Not fully. Not yet.

Time may be rapidly running out but with a new year comes new hope and optimism. As Kevin Keegan said: “One day you will get your club back and it will be everything you wanted it to be.”

NEGATIVES

Coming soon on Netflix…

Newcastle rarely looked like scoring, never looked like winning and slipped to yet another inevitable defeat to leave themselves perilously close to the drop zone. The fans are depressed and despondent, filling St James’ Park in blind hope rather than expectation. Rafa looks a beaten man, unwilling to talk about transfers or takeovers. God only knows what the players themselves are thinking, having been told that it will take a ‘miracle’ for them to stave off relegation once again.

The only genuinely surprising thing about the club is that there hasn’t yet been a catastrophic implosion and that there is still, somehow, some semblance of unity and stability despite being at war with itself. With Rafa’s contract up in the summer and much-needed investment extremely unlikely to be forthcoming in this transfer window, things are sure to come to a head sooner rather than later.

If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour and watch ‘Sunderland Til I Die’ on Netflix, then cross your fingers and hope that the same fate doesn’t befall us.

Lack of finishing prowess

On a night when Man Utd were able to introduce Alexis Sánchez, Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard from the bench, Newcastle needed to be at the top of their game if they harboured any hopes of coming away with a point or three.

As usual, the team shape looked good and they worked hard at keeping Man Utd at bay – only an unfortunate mistake from Dubravka presenting Lukaku with an easy tap-in. More worryingly, it was in attack where the team continued to show their toothlessness and poverty of resources.

Christian Atsu was lively all night and offered our biggest threat in attack but, while he found himself in good positions on numerous occasions, he fluffed his lines and his lack of finishing prowess ended up costing us dearly.

Similarly, while Salomón Rondón put in his usual shift up front, he was slow to react and failed to make the most of a couple of half-chances that fell his way. Then there was Ayoze Pérez. Words fail me. Another half-hearted, half-assed performance from the Spaniard who continues to regress yet somehow still finds himself in the starting XI each week.

Bare bones

The flurry of fixtures during the festive season always takes its toll but it has hit Newcastle particularly hard this season.

Already weakened by Ki Sung-yeung’s untimely call-up for South Korea and injuries to Ciaran Clark and Federico Fernández, Newcastle suffered further misfortune when Mo Diame limped off just after half-time having suffered a recurrence of an old hip injury and then ostensibly finished the game with 10 men – a heavily-limping DeAndre Yedlin only staying on the field to make up numbers with all three substitutes having been used up. Indeed, only lenient refereeing prevented total catastrophe as either Lascelles and Shelvey could easily have been sent off too.

Yoshinori Muto now leaves to join up with Japan for the Asian Cup, leaving Rafa Benítez with a seriously depleted playing pool to choose from.

Saturday’s FA Cup tie against Blackburn offers fringe players a chance to stake a claim for a starting berth in the upcoming league games but for every first teamer that’s rested, the likelihood of us making our nearly-customary Third Round cup exit increases dramatically.

Benítez is sure to err on the side of caution but, regardless of the result or who takes to the field, the Spaniard will be hoping that they at least manage to come through the tie unscathed.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Newcastle United 0 Manchester United 2

Goals: Lukaku 64, Rashford 80

Possession was Man Utd 65% Newcastle 35%

Total shots were  Man Utd 16 Newcastle 14

Shots on target were Man Utd 7 Newcastle 3

Corners were  Man Utd 2 Newcastle United 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Yedlin, Schar (Muto 81), Lascelles, Dummett, Ritchie, Hayden, Diame (Shelvey 53), Perez (Kenedy 69), Atsu, Rondon

Unused Subs:

Woodman, Joselu, Manquillo, Lejeune

Crowd: 52,217 (3,000 Man Utd)

(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Newcastle United 0 Man Utd 2 – Read HERE)

(Alan Shearer talks about Rafa Benitez’ ‘Unbelievable Budget’ now we are in January transfer window – Read HERE)

(An impressive Jake Burns rant at Mike Ashley in aftermath of Man Utd defeat – Read HERE)

(Rafa Benitez ‘update’: “I don’t talk about the transfer window and I don’t talk about the takeover” – Read HERE)

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  • KennyS

    Apart from Perez these players are giving everything and to be honest if they were able to add a couple of half decent players to this side they would be safe from relegation.
    Do I want them to be safe? I just can’t answer that question yet. It means Ashley is smug in his Hertfordshire mansion.

    Not sure I know anything anymore.

    • Wezza

      If we do finish safe then what?
      Same next season
      And the next.
      Something big has to happen for the cycle to end.

      • HarryHype59

        Agreed, it’s a continuous cycle of under investment, hoping for survival every season. Sooner or later another relegation is a certainty under this regime.

      • KennyS

        The only thing I can think of that has to happen is a reaction from supporters, in what capacity I don’t know.

  • Wezza

    I agree with the shelvey and Atsu positives – where has that Atsu been? Can’t help but think he wants a move though.
    AS for hope springs eternal. Should we not realise by now with FCB there is no hope
    Agree with the latter negatives but Perez shouldn’t be top of that list. No longer does he was last seasons scorer wash, he has been anonymous and quite frankly Muto has done better. Good thing we have another replacement for Muto though, oh wait.
    FCB OUT

  • Kneebotherm8

    3 Negatives

    1 Ashley
    2 Ashley
    3 Ashley

    • Danimal

      I was going to go with:

      1. Ashley is still the owner.
      2. Ashley is still alive.
      3. Ashley will still be the owner this time next year.

      But yours does it very succinctly.

      HNY.

      • Kneebotherm8

        He’s just like a permanent massive black cloud hanging over the club……..will we ever see the daylight?……

        • pedrodelgardo

          An angry chicken pox scab 3inches up where the sun don’t shine?

          • Kneebotherm8

            That’s him….

  • ScreamStevie

    It’s amazing what Mag readers never seem to see. No mention of Shelvey’s halfhearted effort to cover for ManU’s second goal. No mention of Perez putting Atsu through on goal in the first half with a cross field, pinpoint pass (which if Atsu could shoot might have put us one up). No mention of Lascelles being constantly out of position and his woeful distribution. Just the usual prejudices exercised. Getting a bit boring…

    • KennyS

      Perez did one good thing, that you mention, in the whole game. Can’t think of anything else he did though.
      Shelvey even though he was on for a short time showed he is the only one that can put more than two passes together, yes quite lazy I agree but still an assett to the team while Ki is away.
      Lascelles is nowhere near his best and personally I wouldn’t play him.
      I can’t criticise Atsu, he was one of the better players in the side.

      • ScreamStevie

        I’m merely pointing out the difference in attitude, not that Perez had a good game or that Shelvey did nothing. Compare and contrast Atsu and Perez. Atsu gets into a few decent positions in the ManU game but fluffs the finishes – he’s one of three positives. A few games ago (can’t remember which exactly), Perez gets into a few decent positions but fluffs the finishes – he gets an absolute slating on the Mag.
        We even had someone on the Mag claiming that despite actually scoring our only goal against Wolves and it being Yedlin who was sent off, it was really Perez’s fault we lost because he didn’t jump up after just being elbowed in the face and stop Wolves breakaway goal.
        A bit of perspective is required.

        • KennyS

          Good point! Perez is not one of my favourite players and nor is Atsu, I can ony speak for myself and if anyone scores a goal for my club I respect that totally. I can’t put my finger on it, apart from having average ability, but there is just something about the lad that people don’t like and that means he will never be accepted.

    • Damon Horner

      Always the same. I predicted to my brother about Shelvey and he didn’t disappoint.

      Benefit of the doubt from me on defensive positioning generally because I think an element of that was tactical to combat their play between the def/mid line.

      I agree about prejudice as well. I was defending an accusation the other day that Perez doesn’t get injured enough!

    • Kneebotherm8

      That’s the problem with Shelvey………a real asset when in possession……….but when we’re not in possession of the ball,and that’s the majority of games,then he’s often a total liability,whether not covering defensively or reckless tackling….

    • mentalman

      It was the same against watford he didn’t track the run from midfield which led to the goal. He needs to play alongside two defensive midfielders rather than instead of one of them.

      I’m giving lascelles a bit of slack at the minute, he’s clearly struggling in a back 3 and still learning the position

  • Mrkgw

    We lost – nothing positive in that unfortunately. Any hint that we are drawing positives from defeats must have the despicable one laughing in his cornflakes. Madness.

    • Coach Clagnut

      I don’t understand the sudden love-in with Atsu. For the first time since promotion he got himself involved. The fact that he can’t shoot, can’t pass accurately over 10 yds.,has no pace to speak of and is bang average one on one is indisputable. I reckon he had 4 opportunities to change the game and blew every one. Lascelles has never been able to accurately pass a ball consistently and Perez, well, he must spend hours gazing at his reflection whilst telling himself it’s only a matter of time before Barca or Madrid come a knocking.

      • KennyS

        What love in with Atsu? Don’t think anyone would disagree with your summing up of him as a player but his performances in the last two games have been good if not spectacular.

        Everyone in that team is bang average apart from the keeper who made the mistake for the first goal, did anyone mention that?

        Can’t blame fans for wanting to see some sign of life in the players, having said all this if people stayed away they wouldn’t have to up with this $h!t and don’t watch it on TV either.

        • Coach Clagnut

          “but his performances in the last two games have been good if not spectacular.”
          If by that you mean not spectacularly bad, which is his default level, I would have to kind of agree.

          • KennyS

            Compared to his own inept performances and compared to every other player in the team.

      • Mrkgw

        Agreed. I suspect that some cling desperately to the remote hope, that Atsu or similar will be our saviour. Thats how desperate things have become in these utterly dismal times of Ashley. The club is in disarray, and is anything but united. Ashley must never be forgiven by us for this past decade of blatant spite.

        • KennyS

          I don’t think people cling to any kind of hope that average players are going to turn $h!te into great over night, they are reacting to what they saw which is.. Atsu played well, Perez put one good ball through all night and on the whole Newcastle defended well for most part even though I didn’t think MANure were that good overall.

  • Coach Clagnut

    “Football really and truly is a religion, a way of life and an all-encompassing passion on Tyneside and, while things are currently looking bleak and in danger of getting a whole lot worse, the silver lining of the Mike Ashley cloud is that, try as he might, he still hasn’t killed our spirits. Not fully. Not yet.”
    “The fans are depressed and despondent, filling St James’ Park in blind hope rather than expectation.”
    Ehh, which is it then?

    • Kevin Christie

      Both!

      • Kenny

        What would that be then, loyalty or stupidity.

        • Leicester Mag

          Loyalty to what though? This is a one directional abusive relationship if ever there was one!

  • Kenny

    What a [email protected]@king mess.

    • Leicester Mag

      Absolutely 3 positives- Shelvey came on and strung 2 passes together. A headless chicken was for a change half decent and one day the fat barsteward will leave (52K to watch might reflect on whether their being there makes this more or less likely is a moot point). Glass half full? More like drank and p1zxed in the fireplace

  • Mirandinha9

    It’s a fact that the ‘devotion of the fans remains diminished’ is one of the contributory factors why Cashley behaves the way he does. The sheep keep turning up in their droves, whilst he continues dishing up substandard service in front of them every fortnight. Whilst in any other business, such mediocre service provision would lead to a loss of customers, the sheep remain loyal to him. The Toon fans which go to home games try and legislate their continual attendance as ‘supporting the team’ but the 8 home losses so far, suggests the 50,000 have little positive effect on making the team play better (partly because the atmosphere the 50,000 generate is minimal). Alternatively there continued ‘devotion’ provides Cashley with the positive effect of legitimising everything he does, without enduring any negative publicity from an alternative sparse SJP and lastly, provides him with even more £50 notes into his pocket. Form some backbone and stop going to the matches guys. Sometimes in life, you have to endure some short term pain (ie stop seeing your mates in the pub for a while), for some longer term gains( ie a renanscent NUFC) which can only be achieved when Cashley is gone.