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‘Newcastle 0 Norwich 0 – On Saturday we didn’t even go one up top. In fact, there was no top at all’

2 months ago
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For any Newcastle United fan it is easy to know what to expect from a journey to SJP this season.

Not much sometimes, but occasionally, a late goal or a nerve-wracking and glorious scalp.

United always defend the Gallowgate in the first half if they can and they did against Norwich City.

They always allow the opposition the majority of the ball and they did against Norwich City, largely due to a combination of not having the players to play a possession game and being more comfortable in a defensive grouping.

United rarely get up a head of attacking steam but if they do it is because the opposition have become frustrated at having so much of the ball but not scoring any goals and losing their shape and control.

It isn’t always easy to watch as a Toon fan but it is a realistic way of achieving PL safety for the team, manager and owner.

Saturday’s game against Norwich was just another instalment. A point that took the team fleetingly into the top half of the table, prevented a fellow relegation contender from closing the gap between the teams and meant United need two, possibly three wins to achieve their only realistic goal, staying up.

Against that dark background, a couple of post-match comments by Norwich fans as reported by The Mag amused me.

One said: “Every other team in the league would have beaten Newcastle today.” Obviously that fan hasn’t watched any other PL football this season, because Newcastle played just the same against Chelsea, Manyoo, Brighton, Palace and Southampton and none of those teams walked away from SJP with three points. It’s easy to say that other or richer teams would have won this game, because other teams haven’t, regularly.

Another fan said: “Can I just add that all the way home to Durham I heard Toon fans saying how they wish they played like us.” I see some of the sense in that but ultimately if NUFC played like Norwich, then NUFC would have 18 points this season as well. Would that be any better than what we have now? The Same Old Song, week in week out. Well, we’ve got 31 points.

For all the talk about a boring 0-0 draw there were parts of this game that were quite entertaining, the first 23 minutes anyway, when the average number of shots quota was hit halfway through the first half. MOTD said United lined up as a 3-4-2-1 and perhaps Norwich expected that too and were confused by United’s 5-4-1 being different to the pre-match press sheet. Either way, having a shot after two minutes counts as an opening barrage this season, ASM cutting inside as he always does and forcing a routine save out of Krul.

That Norwich came to attack was a given and they created some decent chances, Sam Byram’s early header well saved by Dubravka. Again, another team who take much better corners than us.

With Pukki creative and spirited, Norwich had most of the ball but NUFC had the best chance. Yedlin’s only decent cross of the game led to Joelinton’s weak header saved by Krul and Almiron’s powerful header woefully wide of the goal. Yedlin’s pathetic crossing is starting to get on my nerves now. Perhaps that is why Lazaro is here, they just couldn’t be bothered to teach Yedlin to cross, so loaned someone else instead.

The Toon rarely attacked again. Maybe they knew they wouldn’t create a better chance. Two late interventions from Fernandez and Hayden prevented Norwich hitting us on the counter when we had wasted set-pieces and the first half trickled away.

As the second half started it looked like United had moved to a more attacking 3-4-3 but that seemed to hand even more of the initiative back to Norwich and that formation lasted just a few minutes, reverting quickly back to a 5-4-1, then a 6-4-0 for the last fifteen minutes.

Norwich created a couple of really good chances, a point-blank header by one of their gigantors from a corner missed from a few yards, Pukki fired straight at Dubravka when one on one and on loan Berliner Ondrej Duda put the follow up into the side netting. For all the Canaries pressure towards the end, it never looked like anyone was going to break the deadlock, it just didn’t look like anyone was good enough to break the deadlock.

ASM brought another standard save from Krul, as did a header from I think Lascelles, while Grant Hanley got in the act and almost put one in his own net, possibly out of sympathy more than anything else. Norwich had the will but not the quality. United had a point and it looked like they had accepted that it was enough.

New guys Lazaro and Rose had a late run out and did nothing wrong without ever looking like having any attacking influence on the game. Still, not bad debuts, at least they look like they want to be here, something it is increasingly difficult to say about those in front of them.

As for the rest, only Dubravka and Fernandez were anything other than lacklustre. Dubravka was excellent, easily the best player in black and white, while Fernandez was the pick of the outfield players, both as a defender and with his forward runs and crossing, possibly the best in the team. How he is out of contract in the summer I don’t know, apart from his performances being quality, he is one of our only defenders who could easily play in a back four.

You can see why Norwich were so successful in the Championship but not so in the PL. They press high, usually closing down more in the opposition’s half than they do in their own, perhaps another reason why they are bottom of the league. Farke-ball, as they call it, is entertaining and attacking and Norwich played with spirit and freedom, all of their players knew what to do and tried to do it, often they just weren’t good enough to do it properly. Afterwards Farke, looking more like Tim Krul’s Dad than his manager said:

“You can’t compare the two clubs in terms of the quality they are able to bring in in the window. Players like (Valentino) Lazaro or (Nabil) Bentaleb I know from Germany and they are top class players. We are a self-funded club who have spent barely a £1m so you can’t really compare us. We try our best. We work with our tools.”

‘Tim Krul’s Dad said:’

At the start of the season it was said that Norwich had the smallest budget in top tier history but I’m not sure you can get smaller than nowt and Newcastle have regularly started a season with that as a budget.

Norwich have some good young players though who will be better for this year’s experience, even if all that does is bump up their transfer value. Youngsters Aarons at full back and Tettey and Cantwell in midfield all caught the eye, although Cantwell only because he runs like a dressage horse and looks like a Barbie. He was perilously close to being sent off when withdrawn midway through the second half and with him went United’s best chance of winning by playing against ten men. Nice to see Tim Krul back at SJP and to a lesser extent Grant Hanley. Both played well enough to think they could still do a job at SJP especially in the formation United currently play.

It was interesting to see the team that is bottom of the league come to attack at SJP. Some of the better teams know they will get 70% possession and approach the game in a patient and methodical manner but this season, the teams who have done better against United are the ones that attack from the outset. Norwich did that in the first half and although Newcastle were poor, there were plenty of chances and shots, if not goals. As the game wore on, it became increasingly obvious that one team had settled for a draw, unfortunately the home team, and the game became more of a stalemate. NUFCs lack of striking options is one of the obvious reasons for that. Not only a lack of options but a lack of both ability for the one option they have and his increasing reliance on his defensive work to mask his lack of potency.

Unfortunately, the more he chases back, the less we have up front. The same goes with Almiron. Much as I like the Paraguayan, it takes more than running around to have a good game. ASM didn’t even do that, he looked knackered, only coming alive on the ball for a few fleeting seconds at a time. He was our main threat though, perhaps we need to give him the ball more. For the time being the manager seems to be happy with their workrate even if it adds to the team’s inability to retain possession and score more goals. The Steves don’t seem to see a link between not being able to keep the ball and not having any players more than 30 yards away from your own goal. Still, they know best, Head Steve saying after the game:

“I have said from day one that I would love to play two up top. I just don’t think we are ready just yet with what we have got, so I won’t just change for the sake of it.”

On Saturday we didn’t even go one up top. In fact, there was no top at all.

Stats from BBC Sport (Half-time stats in brackets):

Newcastle 0 Norwich 0 – Saturday 1 February 2020 3pm

Possession was  Norwich 57% (54%), Newcastle 43% (46%)

Total shots were Norwich 19 (10) Newcastle 15 (6)

Shots on target were  Norwich 4 (3), Newcastle 5 (2)

Corners were Norwich 12 (7), Newcastle 8 (2)

Crowd: 52,204 (1,800 Norwich)

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Newcastle team v Norwich:

Dubravka, Yedlin (Lazaro 54), Fernandez, Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie, Hayden (Sean Longstaff 57), Bentaleb, Almiron, Saint-Maximin (Rose 79), Joelinton

Unused Subs

Darlow, Schar, Lejeune, Atsu

(Alan Shearer refuses to discuss the biggest culprit in Newcastle 0 Norwich 0 shocker – Read HERE)

(Daniel Farke can’t believe Norwich didn’t win and jokes “Newcastle have so much quality up front” – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 0 Norwich 0 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Saturday’s dismal draw – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 0 Norwich 0 – Watch the official match highlights here as NUFC get very lucky point – Read HERE)

(Usual shocking negative tactics from Steve Bruce against rock bottom club – Newcastle 0 Norwich 0 – Read HERE)

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