They have also taken a lot of hope, joy and spirit with them from St James Park
Newcastle 1 Wolves 1 – Thrown to the Wolves
When Wolves took the kick-off and booted it straight out, we should have known that this game wasn’t going to be a classic.
The first twenty minutes were like watching an apple rot, apart from a couple of what can loosely be described as shots at goal, not a lot happened.
Slowly but surely Newcastle started to get a handle on their opponents, Traore rarely got forward, Wolves three-man midfield hardly ever got in behind the Longstaffs and Jimenez eventually gave up hounding our defenders.
United grew in confidence and the chances started to come, Almiron over-ran when going through on goal and could only poke into the side-netting. The same player scuffed a penalty area volley, ASM threatened to do something but his pacey and mazy runs came to nothing and Yedlin once again had forgotten how to cross when well placed on numerous occasions.
There was still little indication that it would lead to anything definite until Sean Longstaff took his third dreadful corner of the match. That corner was sliced into the Leazes by the defending Jimenez, Wolves were momentarily distracted laughing at their spanner-footed striker and a quick, short Longstaff/ASM corner eventually led (after Wolves gifted the ball) to the less ginger of our midfielders whipping one in, half-cleared to our best crosser of the ball Fernandez. His Ginola ball forced a Les Ferdinand header from our captain and memories of happier times came flooding back. It was like 1995 all over again.
By half-time, after a few minutes of possession football by the black and whites, that header was all Newcastle had to show for their late dominance. As the commentators say, for United it was a bad time for half -time to come. In reality, it was a better time for full-time to come, Newcastle were hopeless in the second half.
After the game Steve Bruce said: “I was delighted with the way we have played in the first half. Arguably it is as good as we have played here.’ To be fair that was probably true of what I have seen this season, which unfortunately has been most of it.
The second half was different, right from the off Wolves dominated. We should have known that they would, they beat Manchester City at the Etihad after their last Europa away game, why did anyone think they would run out of steam?
Initially it was a dominance without threat but as the half grew, so did the chances and the space into which Adama Traore had to run. That paid off after 73 minutes when Dubravka made a hash of a cross and Spanish Jonny/Honny/Juany capitalised and equalised. More half chances followed for those in green, Sean Longstaff was sent off for a tackle that falls into the category of a red card now but not even a foul ten years ago and Wolves nearly won it at the end as Doherty missed a six-yard box header.
United rarely threatened, Willems, both a genuine threat to the opposition when he is attacking and a genuine threat to his own team when he is defending, nearly scored with a right footed raker. ASM, nashing like an extra in Mad Max had stumbled onto the set of 28 Days Later, was scythed down for a blatant penalty which I haven’t seen a replay of but the referee and VAR said it was a corner so it must have been, they are never wrong. The game finished with the referee sticking his finger in his ear to check something out which I still don’t know what it was.
Overall a draw was probably a fair result given that it was one half each, or at least one half of a half each. The team created to advertise a bargain sportswear retailer drew with the team amassed by Jorge Mendes as a stepping-stone to bigger clubs. And it was a pretty dull Premier League game, like most of the others.
‘ASM: He can run, but does he know where he is going?’
It is difficult to know what to think of a visit to St James Park at the moment. On paper, so little has changed from the end of last season. The manager has but he’s been replaced with another experienced PL manager who plays the same formation, very similar defensive tactics with virtually the same personnel. Some of the names have changed but their style is the same. The football is still varying in quality and can be dull and negative. There is still a team on the pitch generally giving it their all against teams that cost and are paid much more, they still play 5-4-1 and will have the threat of relegation looming over them for most of the season.
There is still a reasonably full stadium, 46,019 there on Sunday and despite the protestations of people over the exact figure, from where I sit in the Gallowgate that didn’t look far off. This season, the same as last season then? Obviously not. Little may have changed on paper but in the ground it is completely different.
A manager with complete control over his team, able to change tactics during a game, confidence in his ability and a track record of success, seems to have been replaced by someone whose only mid-game tactic is to pray to the Merlot God of Chile for some change of fortune.
On Sunday at half-time, Wolves manager Nuno Santo changed formation, attacked down United’s less defensive flank, urged his team to use the ever threatening Traore. Rafa would have done everything about that as soon as it began to be obvious, probably before the likes of me even knew it was happening. Our new Head Coach just stood and watched, did nothing and said after the game that ‘We forgot to take part in the second half.’ He can include himself in that statement.
Even something simple like swapping the wings of the more defensively able Almiron for the less inclined ASM might have been enough to shift the balance of this match. Failing that, Dummett on the bench, aided by Willems, would have been more defensively sound. Either way, Bruce did nothing and after the game made the sort of statement that puts the blame for his team’s misgivings firmly at the door of some mystical entity: ‘For some reason we didn’t play in the second half. We needed to gain composure and a foothold in the game but we gave the ball away so many times and sat back too much.’ Almost like there is nothing he can do about it.
In the early days he promised some attacking football but even that seems beyond him. If he can’t set up his team to defend with a plan, then he doesn’t look like he can set his team up to attack with a plan either. Doesn’t sound like a foundation for saying he deserves respect.
‘Steve Bruce: If I can’t see them, they can’t see me’
What else has changed is that although the crowd is similar in size, the flags, the songs and the passion has largely gone. Those who are boycotting, or just staying away, have taken much of the joy with them, replaced for now by tourists, students, Dads and kids. There isn’t much on the field to stir the hearts but that was often the case for the last two seasons, so far this season only the possibility of victory over Manchester United has meant the crowd have roused themselves to support the team. On Sunday I could hear my own voice while I was singing. No one wants to hear me sing, not even me.
Last season we lost 2-1 at home to Wolves in a very similar game, down to 10 men, a draw going past the 90 minutes. We didn’t lose this one and we have more points than we did last season at the same stage so the stats say what has changed is that the club is better. That is obviously not the case to anyone who was there on Sunday.
Before the game Steve Bruce said that ‘I think Newcastle fans can see what we are trying to achieve.’ That is true, I can see what he and the club is trying to achieve. Fourth bottom in the Premier League. That is probably why those who left in the summer did and who can blame them.
What has changed is that the people who left in the summer, in the dugout, on the pitch and in the stands have taken a lot more with them than just their presence. They have also taken a lot of hope, joy and spirit with them. Bruce has been able to identify some of the problems that have befallen his team this season, he mentions them often enough after the game. If he can do anything about them, now is his time to prove it. If he can’t, Jaap Stam is ready and waiting in the wings.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Wolves 1 – Sunday 27 October 2pm
Jamaal Lascelles 37, Sean Longstaff red card 82
Possession was Wolves 57% Newcastle 43%
Total shots were Wolves 13 Newcastle 13
Shots on target were Wolves 5 Newcastle 2
Corners were Wolves 6 Newcastle 3
Referee: Kevin Friend
Newcastle team v Wolves:
Dubravka, Yedlin, Fernandez, Lascelles, Clark, Willems, M Longstaff (Atsu 90), S Longstaff, Saint-Maximin (Gayle 90), Almiron, Joelinton (Shelvey 85)
Darlow, Dummett, Muto, Krafth
Crowd: 46,019 (3,235 Wolves)
(I’m still hoping NUFC make me regret giving up my season ticket…Newcastle 1 Wolves 1 – Read HERE)
(The official highlights from Newcastle 1 Wolves 1 – Watch HERE)
(More embarrassing Steve Bruce comments after Newcastle 1 Wolves 1 – Read HERE)
(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Newcastle 1 Wolves 1 – Read HERE)
(NUFC fans taunted with ‘Where’s your famous atmosphere?’ by media after Newcastle 1 Wolves 1 – Read HERE)
(The positives and negatives from the draw with Wolves – Read HERE)
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