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Opinion

Fireworks, Miguel Almiron and pre-match rave – Just the usual pre-match away experience…

2 months ago
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I had never been to Molineux before and, except for being unable to find anywhere to park, it’s relatively impressive and within walking distance of the city centre. Due to the aforementioned parking issues I only arrived five minutes or so before kick-off, but walked straight into a pyrotechnic, light and music display more akin to a rave than the start of a football match. This was also repeated immediately before the second half, although on a smaller scale.

I have to say that whilst I am not a fan of ‘engineered atmosphere’ (e.g. music to accompany goal celebrations, Leicester’s cardboard clackers), this played a part in creating a buzz around the stadium in excitement from the home fans and ‘what the f…ing hell was that?’ chants from the travelling Geordies.

Getting home was even worse than getting there. Despite the fact that I live in the Midlands (albeit East, not West) roadworks and accidents on the M6 resulted in a journey that should have been an hour and a half, getting me home at 1am with the decision to save money by not taking the M6 Toll well and truly regretted!

The Atmosphere:

Whether charged up by the pre-match rave or otherwise, home fans were relatively impressive and there was a reasonable noise, in particular from the stand behind the goal to the left of the away support – but there was also some back and forth between home fans behind each of the goals with jibes and responses exchanged.

Whilst there was pretty much constant singing from the away supporters it felt a little subdued, especially in the first half and before Hayden scored. Even when the goal went in, whilst it was celebrated, there didn’t seem to be the same level of excitement and pandemonium that greeted the goals at, say, Nottingham Forest, which was the last away game I went to (except for the groups of younger lads spilling out onto the stairs).  It also felt like the layout of the away area, all in one long strip along the pitch side meant it was difficult for any coordinated singing to take place.

Apparently Mike Ashley was in attendance, although I didn’t realise that until this morning and it felt like it wasn’t widely known in the away end. Regardless, it only took four or five minutes before the Fat Cockney B..tard/Get Out Of Our Club began.

The Team:

An unchanged team wasn’t a surprise to me, we know that Rafa likes to introduce new players gradually and the three at the back formation has been working well in recent matches. Also, from the kick off, it was great to see that the formation was intended more as a 3-4-3 with attacking intent, rather than a defensive 5-4-1 or 5-3-1-1 that it sometimes morphs into when Newcastle sit back to defend. For me this was a really positive sign from the off, with Yedlin and Ritchie pushing up and extremely wide (a la Man City) and Perez and Atsu pushing up to support Rondon the target man, as part of a front three.

The Players:

Dubravka (7) – Usual commanding presence at the back and, other than the goal, held onto everything thrown at him with authority.

Yedlin (5) –  In my opinion is a good wing-back, in that he can operate both offensively and defensively but doesn’t really do either quite to the standard we need. Worked hard as always, both sides of these frailties were apparent.

Ritchie (7) – As always, worked his socks off and brought some much-needed fight and passion to the team. Good on the ball, always open for a wide pass and looked to switch to the other flank whenever possible, or hit Rondon as the target man.

Lejeune (8) – Fantastic on the ball, except for getting caught in possession once in the first half. Provides the calm at the back which allowed Lascelles to play to his strengths, whether covering in behind or bringing the ball out.

Lascelles (8) – Dealt with pretty much everything that came his way in the air and on the ground. Really benefitted from having Lejeune alongside him.

Schar (7) – Was solid in the tackle and didn’t really set a foot wrong.

Hayden (8) – Another solid game and grabbed the goal. Given off the pitch issues I have been impressed with the professional approach to the last few games when he’s been called upon and was the same last night.

Longstaff (9) – I’ve not seen him play in the flesh since Forest away in August, he reminded me of a young Darren Fletcher that night, but last night was more of a peak Darren Fletcher! The run in the first team seems to have done the world of good for his confidence and he controlled things in midfield. He was all over the pitch breaking up play, and on the ball was composed and in control, always looking forward and with an immense range of passing.

Atsu (5) – Worked hard up and down the pitch with good discipline in maintaining shape – however, always feels like he should be more of a threat going forward with better decision-making both in terms of picking the right pass or making the right run. Things always seemed to break down when he got on the ball.

Perez (6) – I’m always impressed with Ayoze’s workrate and tenacity, and more of the same last night, showing some good touches and lots of willing, although didn’t seem to quite be working out for him as he got crowded out a lot. Nearly grabbed a second at the end after some great work from Almiron.

Rondon (8) – Great centre forward play, always a good target, held the ball well and did well to create shooting chances from the bits of service that came to him on the ground in the box. Defended set pieces like Alan Shearer, heading out the near post corners.

Subs:

Almiron (8) – Got the expected rapturous reception from the away fans and was obviously fired up and looking to impress. Showed great pace on the ball, also a great willingness to fight for possession and was always available for the pass. Provided the spark that has previously been missing and is going to be a real asset for the rest of the season and beyond.

Manquillo (7) – Not really on long enough but put in a couple of good solid challenges in front of the away end immediately after coming on.

Diame (6) – No real time to have an impact.

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The Game and Result:

The team started positively and attempted to use the whole of the pitch to move the ball from side to side and stretch the Wolves defence, which usually had two or three sat in front of it and was pretty difficult to penetrate through the middle with balls along the ground.  While the ball was going out wide a lot and progress was being made, it did feel that there wasn’t enough made of the possession out wide and some earlier crosses towards Rondon and Perez in the box. This was especially true on the right where even when Yedlin did get a cross in, it was often overhit. It was telling that it took until the 45th minute to win the first corner.

Wolves always looked dangerous on the break, with the front three breaking quickly each time their block of seven at the back won back possession – however, Newcastle dealt with everything that was thrown at them and defended resolutely. It felt worrying that there were far too many corners, but these were all dealt with. There was a spell mid-way through the first half when United worryingly started to fall back deeper, but this only lasted 10 or 15 minutes and the earlier control in midfield was restored, with a higher line and some calm composure.

By half time United looked good value for at least a draw, looking patient in possession and more than matching the chances created by the home team. It did at this point though feel like there was a spark needed to complement the hard work and composure and create some more clear-cut chances. This would come part way through the second half with the introduction of Almiron, who caused havoc with his direct running and pace, creating opportunities and drawing fouls.

Before Miggy could even impact the game though, Hayden had latched onto a through ball and finished well to put United ahead – and although there had been chances at both ends it didn’t feel like it was against the run of play. As the second half progressed, it felt like we would see out the one-nil, continuing to look good on the ball and create chances. Whilst there were a couple of opportunities for the home team, there was nothing clear-cut and United hung on to repel the scrappy chances that fell in the box and the potshots from distance.

However, as the game proceeded into time added on, it started to feel a bit like the referee wanted to play until next goal – with a succession of corners resulting in the scrappiest of goals which, despite being the equaliser, did feel like a winner for Wolves, NUFC having played so well and hung on to the 95th minute. Whether it was a foul or not on Dubravka I’m not sure and haven’t seen a replay, but it felt like another cross that should have been dealt with.

Looking back the morning after, while the result felt like a defeat at the time, a draw was probably a fair reflection of the game and I would have taken it before kick-off. It’s a shame that we find the club in a situation where away wins against teams like Wolves and Leicester are seen as potentially ‘famous’ wins, but four points from Man City, Spurs and Wolves away at this point of the season is not a bad return.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Wolves 1 Newcastle 1

Goals:

Newcastle: Hayden 56

Wolves: Boly 90+3

Possession was Wolves 60% Newcastle 40%

Total shots were Wolves 22 Newcastle 9

Shots on target were Wolves 6 Newcastle 3

Corners were Wolves 13 Newcastle 1

Referee: Graham Scott

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Lejeune, Ritchie, Hayden (Diame 86), Longstaff, Atsu (Almiron 72), Perez (Manquillo 90), Rondon

Unused Subs:

Woodman, Joselu, Fernandez, Kenedy

Crowd: 30,687 (Newcastle 2,402)

(Newcastle go one point clear of the relegation zone as Almiron makes debut – Read HERE)

(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the 1-1 draw -Read HERE)

(Jamie Carragher and Patrick Kluivert verdict on that controversial equaliser HERE)

(Nuno Espirito Santo verdict on the match – Read HERE)

(Read our match report from Wolves 1 Newcastle 1 HERE)

You can follow the author on Twitter @Matt_J_Norton

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