Newcastle United in chaos and uncertainty until they find their feet or….just chaos and uncertainty
It finished Newcastle 1 Watford 1 on Saturday.
A game that was low in a number of things, particularly quality and (relatively speaking) fans.
The lowest Premier League crowd in seven years (Newcastle beat Wigan on Monday 3 December in front of 43,858) saw 44,157 as the official attendance, although looking around there could have been even more than the official 8,000+ empty seats.
Steve Bruce said that after a few wins all those seats will be filled, though he never gave an actual timeframe on when United will get these few wins…
I have seen comments since Saturday suggesting two scenarios…
That Newcastle are currently in chaos/uncertainty until they find their feet.
That Newcastle are in chaos/uncertainty.
Steve Bruce’s team were stunned to go behind after only 70 seconds.
A Tom Cleverley deflected shot fell for Will Hughes and as Newcastle were very slow to react, the Watford midfielder put a low effort past Martin Dubravka.
Newcastle managed their first effort on target four minutes before half-time and we were level, Emil Krafth crosses a hopeful ball into the middle of the box and Fabian Schar shot past Ben Foster after a knockdown from Isaac Hayden. a goal that apparently VAR should have disallowed because the ball accidentally touched Hayden’s hand.
Around 10 minutes into the second half and Newcastle finally got properly into it, a 10 minute or so spell when they actually looked decent.
Fabian Schar 10 yards out but he possibly sees it only at the last second and puts his headed effort wide, Lascelles releases Atsu up the left and he pulls it back for Almiron but he doesn’t connect properly and his weak effort is blocked.
Longstaff squares it to midfield partner Hayden and his effort from 25 yards is tipped over by Foster. Sean Longstaff himself then strides forward and hits a low shot from 25 yards but not quite enough power and Foster saves low to his right.
However, when the goal didn’t come, belief and energy levels appeared to quickly drop, despite most of the team having been rested in midweek for the League Cup defeat.
Watford realised they had the upper hand and little threat facing them, the final 20 minutes saw them pushing forward and committing numbers, going close on a number of occasions. Dubravka saving a point with a series of decent saves.
The story of the game for me was not enough quality from wide areas for Newcastle and not enough players getting into the box. Failings that have needed addressing for some time but the money not spent on dealing with them.
With Rafa Benitez making such a success of playing with the three/five at the back and Steve Bruce clearly agreeing with that, it was obvious that investment in wing-backs was a massive priority this summer, especially so with a big physical £40m centre-forward to feed.
Instead, it looks like we have simply added to the collection of low level options…
Paul Dummett is an out and out defender who can’t play wing-back so I wouldn’t include him but we’ve now ended up with Manquillo, Krafth, Lazaar (went out on loan today), Yedlin, Willems, Sterry and none of them are good enough in my opinion. Indeed, converted winger Matt Ritchie is the best option and whilst he gives great workrate and commitment, he just doesn’t really have enough quality going forward from that left wing-back position, plus of course he is now injured.
Steve Bruce repeatedly said pre-season that his Newcastle team would be playing ‘on the front foot’ but that has been anything but the case. Whether this was simply a lie or wishful thinking, who knows. However, what we do know is that there has been possession stats of 38% (v Arsenal), 37% (v Norwich), 20% (v Spurs), 32% (v Leicester) and 49% (v Watford).
Newcastle haven’t managed to get anywhere near close to getting on the front foot against anybody. Instead, it has simply been a case of mainly defending and creating a minimum of chances. It ends up with Joelinton getting over the top stick for missing one really good chance at Norwich and then the papers starting up a blame Almiron campaign because he has missed a few half chances. Wanting to ignore the reality that the big problem is so little help from the rest of the team for that front pair, not helped by the poor quality options at wing-back.
Leaving aside the League Cup game, I think it is really worrying as well in that we have struggled to create chances against four clubs who all had/have serious problems in defence.
Watford, Norwich, Spurs and Arsenal have kept only one clean sheet between them in a combined 16 PL games and that was Arsenal against Newcastle. They have conceded 27 goals between them in their other 12 games that weren’t against NUFC. Spurs have defended really badly this season, Arsenal had most of their best players missing and a makeshift defence in our game, whilst Watford and Norwich (Newcastle’s first effort on target was when Shelvey scored in added time) look like they will concede loads this season.
Against any team with a solid defence I think Newcastle will really struggle to threaten them.
On the positive side I do think Joelinton looks decent and so he should for £40m but we have skimped on the wing-backs and instead of buying another decent goalscorer have brought in never fit and available Andy Carroll. A bit like being sent to the car auctions to buy a family runabout and instead coming back with an old sports car that looks like a great idea but is missing the engine and other essential parts.
The wildcard was always going to be Allan Saint-Maximin but Steve Bruce ridiculously started him at Spurs despite the player only starting full training two days beforehand after a hamstring injury. To the surprise of nobody he limped off after 17 minutes and is set to be missing at least five weeks. Which no doubt will turn out to be far longer.
Spurs was such an unexpected gift as you get these games very occasionally where you defend all game and have a few breaks and a couple of chances, Newcastle had two shots on target and scored one goal.
Yet that backs to the wall all game fortunate win, is being held up as a sign that this team should do ok.
I’d like to think they are right but I don’t see the creativity and goals we need and I certainly don’t see the head coach having the skills to get more from the team than the individuals who make it up.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Watford 1 – Saturday 31 August 3pm
Possession was Watford 51% Newcastle 49%
Total shots were Watford 13 Newcastle 13
Shots on target were Watford 3 Newcastle 5
Corners were Watford 5 Newcastle 6
Referee: Graham Scott
Newcastle team v Watford:
Dubravka, Krafth (Manquillo 78), Schar (Fernandez 85), Lascelles, Dummett, Willem, Hayden, Longstaff, Atsu (Muto 82), Almiron, Joelinton
Darlow, Clark, Ki, Shelvey
Crowd: 44,157 (approx 1,500 Watford)
(Statement from Toon For Change protest group on crowd figures – Read HERE)
(Watch official match highlights HERE)
(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Newcastle 1 Watford 1 – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 1 Watford – Lowest NUFC PL crowd in 7 years see Bruce’s team struggle against bottom club – Read HERE)
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