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Match Reports

The darkest hour comes just before the dawn?

5 months ago
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There is a cinematic cliche that it occurred to me is a symbolic analogy for the current Newcastle season. You’ll know the one I’m sure: in a war or disaster film, a bomb has gone off unexpectedly in a built up area. The immediate aftermath is depicted as a scene of chaos, death and destruction as a major character wanders aimlessly in a state of shock, usually sporting a serious but unacknowledged wound. Background shouts and cries are heard, but only dimly, behind the overriding sound of a high-pitched disconnect tone, representative of both the temporary deafness and the shell shock being experienced.

This game against Man Utd, in the light of recent and longer-term events, was no disgrace. Effort was in abundance against a revitalised side of multi million pound mega stars that could have had their new manager bounce deflated were it not for a couple of lapses from a team that has infamously profiteered over two years of post-Championship transfers. Looking around after the game though, I seem to have seen more plots lost than the annual gathering of the amnesiac allotmenteers, and I wonder if the visit of our former title rivals has been the metaphorical bomb going off for this season.

For the game anyway: United more than matched Manchester in the early exchanges, with Atsu seemingly desperate to get a goal against Man U on his CV. The Ghanaian was a lively outlet for the typical old absorb-and-counter-attack tactic and had the best efforts of the first half, although one shot from an angle may have been a poor choice when Rondon was well placed for the square ball, and a second effort was never going to beat the quality of De Gea at his inside post.

For the visitors, Pogba and Rashford did a fair amount of falling over, which was annoying. The tendency to play our way out of defence was heart stopping at times as it felt like Manchester were going to inevitably punish this cavalier attitude. However, we survived through invention, such as Atsu nutmegging Pogba on his way out of the box and luck, with Lascelles marauding forward on a nose-bleeding mazy run that ended with a wild lunge on Herrera. The yellow card was actually a bit of a relief.

I actually thought going in 0-0 at half time was the best outcome, as scoring too early has a tendency to get these types angry. If a backs to the wall mugging was to take place all was going according to plan. Shelvey came on and started spraying it around, sending Perez through only for Luke Shaw to get a desperate block in. Atsu again fired narrowly wide. Rondon just failed to react to a bobbling ball in a goalmouth scramble. It seemed like the game plan was being executed.

Then, the difference came. As Joselu warmed up for the home team, the visitors brought on £100million+ worth of attacking talent, throwing Sanchez and Lukaku on just as they were about to take a free kick. A horrifying moment followed as Rashford’s effort had power and a bit of spin, but was straight down Dubravka’s throat. In a moment that defied the eyes and senses, our goalie spilled the ball for Lukaku to pounce on, scoring with his first touch.

If you had anything but instant forgiveness for Dubravka for this singular instance of human error in an otherwise stellar campaign of defiant magnificence, then you are a knob head. Martin, it’s one of those things mate, I bloody love you and if I didn’t have to write this report I’d have forgotten it happened by now.

It did feel a bit pointless from here, despite United’s valiant attempts to regroup. Game over came ten minutes from the end when our midfield was painfully slow to react to a Manchester counter attack. Having played the ball out right, Rashford was allowed to amble forward into an acre of space, easily tucking it away when Sanchez found him with the cross.

Unfortunately, the disaster unfolded beyond the confines of the game. Results coming in saw wins for Burnley and Palace, and a surprise point for Southampton at Stamford Bridge. Two points from the bottom with a hideous set of fixtures looming and the kind of relegation uncertainty that can legitimately cause disparity over takeover prices, if anyone’s even still having it that this is a thing.

The following day saw the post bomb blast fallout en masse. It emerged that the people behind the Leazes flag campaign had been bullied out of the ground by stewards for exchanging pleasantries with the passing John Beresford, with large quantities of flags said to have been destroyed or discarded despite club promises to the contrary (I’d question whether some of these stewards support teams other than Newcastle, the sadistic glee some seem to take in their minimum wage knobstickery).

Secondly, this site joined with other fan organisations in putting names to an open letter to Ashley, asking him to fund the necessary transfers to keep our head above water, then get on with legitimately selling the club, for Premier League prices, once this is achieved. I would say this is more a marker, to point out the obvious to MA so that his brutal neglect can be clarified when this straightforward and accurate instruction is comprehensively ignored.

The media did a decent job I thought of circulating this story. However, there is anger and frustration bubbling over everywhere: anger at Pete Graves over Sky Sports coverage of NUFC, anger at Steve Howey for repeating some optimistic takeover tattle he’d felt inclined to believe, negative responses regarding the futility of the letter, both towards the organisations presenting it and the friendly journalists publicising it. Ashley has succeeded in his game of divide and conquer.

The transfer issue is actually even more desperate, as Isaac Hayden, decent for 90 minutes against Manchester, resubmitted his transfer request along with heartfelt quotes as to how desperately he needs the move. Given that Muto now joins Ki in Asia and Diame hobbled off , our options in midfield look alarmingly short.

They were almost even shorter as Shelvey’s needless lunge on Pogba was given the usual microscopic attention of any slur on Man Utd. Hopefully the ref’s dealing with the incident with a mere free kick means retrospective action is impossible, because boy do we need Jonjo to fire.

Likewise Kenedy, whose substitute appearance was unremarkable. I’d give him the full game against Blackburn to sink or swim, as he’s another one we could do with returning to the team in place of his anonymous twin brother.

We are here now, the month of reckoning. No one ever really believed good things would happen, did they, but still we held out forlorn hope that there was at least a point in a bit of wait and see. But we know, we all know and we always did. No takeover. An inglorious FA Cup exit, set against the background of a likely slide below the relegation line. Some cancelling season tickets while others fire vitriol, clinging onto their precious seats like a sea of jeering, sniping Gollums. Rafa looking more and more broken and resigned in a way that is clearly cascading through to the players.

Chaos, all set to the backdrop of that shellshock disconnect tone. Our only hope the old adage that the darkest hour comes just before the dawn.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that losing to Man United was the worst thing that would happen to us.

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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)

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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