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Match Reports

Burnley hadn’t won here since 1976 – It is starting to feel like Newcastle United haven’t either

8 months ago
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Hope? Expectation? Entertainment? Obligation? Just some of the reasons why some people I know still go to watch Newcastle United.

There has been very little of the first one of those reasons for attendance this season and a lot more of the fourth one.

On Saturday against Burnley we were promised a little more of reasons two and three. Did Steve Bruce deliver on that promise? Well, yes and no.

The team formation changed to anything from a 4-2-3-1, to a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 depending on the report you read. From where I sit it looked like 4-4-2 but that the press and the fans have differing opinions probably means that no one is quite sure what the formation was. Read into that what you will.

Dwight Gayle started up front, bizarrely partnered by Miggy Almiron, whose banjo has been prominent this season, once again Burnley’s goal was the cow’s backside. Under pressure Joelinton was moved to the left wing, presumably for his defensive capabilities rather than his ability to, well, do something else. That the Brazilian has been crying out for support up front all season obviously meant that when he was given the support he so desperately needed, he was moved away from where he needed it. That Steve Bruce coaching manual must have got some thumbing this week.

Matt Ritchie played on the right, Hayden got the job of running his harris off covering for JonJo Shelvey in midfield. The back four saw the return of Manquillo and the continuation of Fernandez and Lascelles, probably our only two centre backs who can play in a back four, and Danny Rose on the left. The Spurs loanee certainly didn’t need to check his Fitbit on Saturday night.

It would be difficult to say that the game ever came to life but certainly United had the better of the first half and created a few chances. At the centre of most of what was good was Jonjo Shelvey, the understanding which exists between him and Gayle took only nine minutes to show, Shelvey playing Gayle in and only a poor first touch in difficult circumstances prevented a goalscoring opportunity. The two players looked on the same wavelength all day and the partnership created a few decent openings on Saturday at SJP, that’s a few more than anyone else has done for most of the season.

On 26 minutes, Almiron shot like Almiron does when in the penalty area, something Gayle repeated later in the half. Gayle and Ritchie went close with headers, both will probably feel they should have done better, especially Matt Ritchie running on to a cross and free at the back post. Ritchie also hit the post with a deflected shot which not only was unlucky, it was the only time in the half when Newcastle looked like they would score.

‘Dwight Gayle battled manfully against the Burnley defence’

Burnley for their part did little in the first half. They are an effective set piece team and every time they had a corner or free kick to put in the box it was done effectively. Any one of those set pieces could have led to a goal, that it didn’t was down to a little luck and some good defensive work – Dubravka, Lascelles and Fernandez at their most solid.

It took over an hour for Burnley to create anything but when they did, or when Danny Rose did, they had the two best chances of the game. Rose’s failed backpass intercepted by Jay Rodriguez with a clear run on goal. That he blazed it over the bar saved Rose, the linesman flag which went up and took the heat out of the situation looked from our position like it would have been reversed by VAR. Minutes later substitute Chris Wood headed a great chance out for a throw in from eight yards.

‘Danny Rose: Burnley’s most creative player’

That was about all Burnley had to offer. As the game ran on, Steve Bruce responded to increased calls for ASM to come on with his only change of the game, off came the limping and dis-heartened Joelinton. The striker had a better game on the wing and looked largely interested for once but it is hard to understand why he got a game on the wing rather than playing up front. No matter what Bruce says, he was bought as a striker and while his appearances as a winger might have been an improvement, we have other wingers who are better. ASM immediately showed that. Despite not looking at all fit, something the Steves confirmed later, ASM wriggled and twisted and even got a powerful shot off straight at the giant Pope in the Burnley goal. Let’s hope Joelinton was watching.

As the game bickered its way to a stalemate, NUFC’s best chance of the game came and went. Shelvey put through onto Burnley’s back line passed to Ritchie fourteen yards out. Ritchie passed up the opportunity to shoot right-footed, cut back onto his left and his blocked shot came to nothing. Almiron had done something similar in the same position a few minutes earlier. The benefits of playing left footed players on the left and right footed players on the right, again lost on our Head Coach, especially given that we had men in the box in this match, forlornly waiting for crosses which never came. Whatever the reason for Ritchie’s right-wing spot, at the weekend it didn’t work.

What did work was that Shelvey was in the game more and that usually means his team play better football. Just. Jonjo’s lack of mobility and positional abandonment was never punished so his contribution was positive. He didn’t look match fit but what’s new. Other positives were the returning Manquillo, Gayle and the two centre backs who looked in control for the full match. Joelinton was more involved and by no means United’s worst player and those in black and white often had more men in the opposition’s penalty area than at any time over the rest of the season.

Credit to Steve Bruce too. Well a back-handed credit anyway. Seeing as the players have now forgotten how to play Rafa’s 5-4-1, now was the right time to change. These footballers can only remember the basics for so long without proper instruction so why not move to a more free, less controlled environment which requires less coaching. Certainly Bruce can be encouraged by some of the things he saw and should be able to change some of the things that didn’t work.

‘We had 21 shots. Brilliant’

One of those things that didn’t work he may already have decided to change. For whatever reasons, Newcastle currently have better players in all three of the positions that loan players were brought in to fill in January. That may not always be the case this season but it is difficult to see Lazaro getting a game on the wing ahead of JL, ASM, Almiron and Ritchie. Likewise, Bentaleb is behind Shelvey, Hayden and two Longstaffs for a midfield spot. Possibly the only signing which is understandable at this stage is Danny Rose, that is until you see him play. He was United’s weakest defender on Saturday. And not our thinnest.

The game ended to some boos, a little harsh considering the circumstances. For those who go out of hope, expectation or entertainment then none of them could be disappointed. This game was like most of the others and there was very little of those three things before. It was never going to be good.

Both teams, managers and clubs are doing what they do best and history tells us to expect no different. United can’t score and didn’t. Burnley didn’t try to score and didn’t. Both teams put in the required amount of effort and commitment, both managers did everything they could to not lose, both clubs should achieve their goals for the season. This was just a little bit better than before, even though NUFC are trying to achieve their goals without scoring any.

On the whole, it’s probably not the best game to analyse a change in tactics. Burnley are one of many mundane and depressing teams for opposing supporters to watch, a group of teams which also contains NUFC. That is only partly a criticism of Burnley. They are organised, committed, play to their strengths in the air and go about their business professionally and successfully, even if Sean Dyche said they were “below par” after the game. Just as well really.

Burnley even time-waste as an orchestrated unit but really that just played into United’s hands. NUFC only had 70 minutes in which to create very little rather than the usual 90. Burnley will no doubt claim that it isn’t their job to entertain other teams’ fans and probably don’t care that they are unwatchable.

For those reasons, even though the Stevolution advertised a new era of super-football, this was never going to be the game of free-flowing, attacking football. That United maintained a reasonable level of defensive resilience and didn’t concede was going to be vital. Better to draw 0-0 than lose 1-0. That’s the case for the defence anyway.

Obviously it is better to win but you have to score to do that. United are now four games without a goal and for all those in black and white had 21 shots, few of them looked like they were going in. Burnley hadn’t won here since 1976. It is starting to feel like Newcastle haven’t either.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Newcastle 0 Burnley 0  – Saturday 29 February 3pm

Goals:

Possession was Burnley 46% Newcastle 54%

Total shots were Burnley 8 Newcastle 21

Shots on target were Burnley 1 Newcastle 4

Corners were Burnley 7 Newcastle 11

Referee: Andy Madley

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Manquillo, Fernandez, Lascelles, Rose, Hayden, Shelvey, Ritchie, Almiron, Joelinton (Allan Saint-Maximin 77), Gayle

Unused Subs:

Darlow, Schar, Lejeune, Yedlin, Sean Longstaff, Bentaleb

Crowd: 52,219 (Burnley 2,400)

(Newcastle 0 Burnley 0 – Boos at final whistle as no goals in over 6 hours and 1 win in 10 for Steve Bruce – Read HERE)

(Burnley 0-0 draw and 7 goals in 12 games – Steve Bruce says ‘easy decision’ not to start Saint-Maximin – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 0 Burnley 0 – Watch the official match highlights here as NUFC get a point – Watch HERE)

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

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