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Opinion

I’m not really sure what I’ve just watched…(Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2)

5 months ago
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The final scoreline read Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2.

Not the greatest surprise that NUFC were no longer in the FA Cup.

However…I’m not really sure what I’ve just watched and I’m not sure I want to watch a similar performance under the name of Newcastle United ever again.

I sat down at 18:30 to watch, on council telly, Newcastle United vs Manchester City in the Quarter Finals of the F.A Cup and after 90 minutes, I extracted myself from the armchair and couldn’t decide what had addled my mind most, the chilled vino or the football on display.

Now (to some surprise) I’m going to try(*) and not criticise Steve Bruce. It won’t be easy but here goes.

Let’s get one thing out of the way sharpish.

What the hell was that first half all about?

What the hell was the team selection?

What was the game plan?

I can’t answer such questions, I’m stumped. If a more one sided 45 minutes of football can be found, I’d like to see it. If Manchester City had been 4-0 up I couldn’t have had any complaints. The subliminal mirth/pity (delete as appropriate) coming from the BBC Match of the Day studio (including Alan Shearer) was obvious.

Fair enough, Shearer wasn’t sticking the boot in at our expense but to be fair, I’d rather he had. It’s ok sitting on the fence and taking the splinters up your a.se because a friend is in the dugout but it’s quite another story to not call out a team selection and team set up that had allowed a City side to take control to such an extent that they could get to (at one stage) 87% possession. Just think on that stat- 87% possession. It was like The Alamo.

Before anyone starts, I know they are good, Manchester City have a brilliant side (albeit missing a few players) but to simply allow them carte blanche in that first half was unforgivable. What was the plan? Play for penalties?

Now I’m going to give you a spoiler warning. I’m about to mention Rafa Benitez. “Booo, hisss” I hear coming from the pro Bruce and anti Benitez brigade but I’ll continue.

I’ll cast your minds back to my own low point under the management of Rafa Benitez. It was a Premier League game against Fulham and it will live long in the memory, as I was there.

I sat through (in freezing conditions) a game in December 2018 watching one of the worst games of football I’ve ever seen. The standard of play was shocking. If the opposition had ran rings round us and hammered us 0-4 I would have held my hands up and acknowledged our own awfulness. Sadly not. Both sides were appalling and how either side could pass the ‘match’ off as a ‘game’ of football was astonishing. The guy next to me (when I uprooted myself with a couple of minutes to go) asked “Have you finally had enough?” My response was simple “I’d had enough an hour ago!”

I had the same feelings watching the cup tie against Manchester City. The difference between the two games being that we nicked a point against a relegation rival in 2018, however, we surrendered the cup tie in June 2020 before a ball was kicked (* I said I would try and avoid criticising Bruce but it’s simply impossible).

Many questions arise.

1) Why bench your first choice goalkeeper in a vital cup tie?

2) Why put Jonjo Shelvey on the bench if you have no intention of playing him?

3) Why start Andy Carroll if you don’t partner him with someone like Dwight Gayle?

4) Why then bring Carroll off FOR Gayle and not to partner him?

By the end of the game, Maximin and Almiron had both come off as well as Carroll. At what point in the Bruce thought process did he think taking attacking players off would help the cause?

These questions can be answered but the end result would be the same, the Head Coach is clueless. You can’t sit back and gift the opposition the freedom of St James Park to the tune of at one point 87% possession and hope to simply survive long enough to then mount an attack later in the game. The game won’t be there to play for at that stage, as was proven, and whilst my problems with the team selection of Bruce on Sunday evening was problematic, the problems started much earlier in the week.

Before the restart, Bruce bleated on about the fixtures being a problem because of limited preparation time, the restart was going to cram too many fixtures in without enough warm up games and the players couldn’t cope. Well, why not rest them against Aston Villa if you had any intention of having a go in the FA Cup? The chance was there. Was the FA Cup tie simply written off as per usual with this club?

My attitude to Bruce is always consistent.

He drifts from game to game with no plan, no idea on how to approach a game or indeed the next game and if things go reasonably well then he’s ok. Talk up the positive, talk down the negative. Whenever he has to think about anything, problems arise. This isn’t his fault but he simply shouldn’t have been employed in the first place. A bit like quite a few under the regime of Mike Ashley.

This manager is simply bloody winging it.

I can see it, many others can see it and if any future owners can see it, he won’t thankfully be around long as (without highlighting a performance against a good side too much) that first half against Manchester City will live long in the memory in its total ineptitude, both during play and in the week or so beforehand…

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