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Opinion

3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Watford 2 Newcastle 1

4 weeks ago
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Saturday afternoon ended Watford 2 Newcastle 1.

Newcastle United edging the first half and deserving their lead.

However, once the hosts were reminded by Nigel Pearon at the break that they were in relegation trouble, they raised their workrate and pressing, in the end fully deserving the 2-1 win

Ahead of each match we ask one of our writers to come up with 3 positives and 3 negatives following the game.

This time it is Kevin Christie:

POSITIVES

It Didn’t Matter Much Anyway

The one saving grace of this insipid defeat was that it didn’t really matter much anyway. The point earned from our 2-2 draw with West Ham last weekend had already assured us of Premier League participation next season, meaning that we have little to play for now but pride.

That pride, quality and commitment were lacking is, of course, a worry, but positive results earlier in the campaign meant that the hard work was already done long before we reached the home straight this season. Not many would have predicted that after our hammering at Carrow Road last August…

Debunking the Bruce myth

While he deserves credit for somehow eking out results against a backdrop of negativity, the Steve Bruce love-in has reached ridiculous levels since the re-start. Lazy and ill-informed pundits in the media look solely at the points board and at our league position and spout the same old nonsense about the ‘remarkable’ job Steve Bruce has done at St James Park – completely ignoring the reality of the situation and the fans’ very justified concerns.

The standard of football has been dire, entertainment has been virtually non-existent, team selections have been baffling and there has been no semblance of coherence in our strategy. Unlikely and highly fortunate wins have grabbed headlines and brought enough points to avoid the relegation dogfight but the reality of our season lies in the drab performances like this one and a dozen or more besides.

Some telling statistics paint a truer and more informative view of how our season has gone than the drivel you’ll hear from the likes of Phil Neville:

Newcastle sit 20th in the possession statistics, are 18th for crosses per game, 19th for short passes per game, 20th for touches in the opposition third, have had the fewest shots in the 6 yard box of all PL teams, are 18th for shots in the 18 yard box and have taken the second highest number of shots outside the box. “Front-foot” football? I think not…

Bright Spark

Although not involved in our goal, Allan Saint-Maximin was again our stand-out performer at Vicarage Road. Fresh from sitting out our latest mauling at the hands of Man City, hopes were high going into the game that the French maverick might again prove our matchwinner but it wasn’t to be.

He delivered one fantastic inviting ball into the Watford box and couldn’t quite lift the ball over Ben Foster when through one-on-one but his pace, trickery and directness yet again struck fear into the opposition defence.

With the exception of the ever-reliable Miguel Almirón, we are entirely devoid of invention and creativity whenever we are without Saint-Maximin. With continued silence on the takeover front and our French wizard continuing to dazzle, at what stage should we start to get nervous about the prospect of us losing our brightest spark when the transfer window re-opens?

NEGATIVES

Missing Lejeune

With Steve Bruce himself having had an illustrious career as a no-nonsense centre back, it’s hardly surprising that he favours Fernandez and Lascelles as his first-choice central defensive pairing. However, while they are both in their element in a backs-to-the-wall situation when we are under the cosh, they are both found wanting in terms of the less prosaic side of the game.

Fabian Schär’s flair and frequent Philippe Albert-esque forays forward have caught the eye and made him a fan favourite but, while his presence has been missed from our backline in recent months, it is Frenchman Florian Lejeune whose loss has been even more keenly felt.

He is a calming presence, a confident and creative distributor of the ball and equally adept at dealing with the gritty side of the game. In short, he offers all the security of Lascelles and Fernandez without the limitations. A thigh injury picked up in our friendly defeat of Hull in mid-June sidelined the unlucky Lejeune and news of any anticipated return date has been slow to filter through. How we could do with him back at the heart of our defence.

Pathways

Anyone who saw our 5-0 crushing at the hands of Man City on Wednesday night could tell you that playing Fabian Schär in a midfield role didn’t really work.

Somehow, though, Steve Bruce saw enough from the Swiss international to deem it worth another go on Saturday – leaving two actual central midfielders on the bench to facilitate it. The fact that one of them was local lad Matty Longstaff who the club are supposed to be doing their best to keep was particularly worrying – all the more so when it was the on-loan, out-of-form Nabil Bentaleb who came on when Bruce did eventually decide to shuffle his pack.

Similarly, having been named amongst the substitutes at The Etihad on Wednesday, youth teamers Jack Young and Tom Allan were both jettisoned in favour of returning senior players yesterday – denying each of them a golden opportunity to sample first team football in a relatively pressure-free environment.

Instead, the same pointless and ineffective substitutions that we’ve seen all season were made again, to little effect. Surely, an ultimately pointless game like this provides the perfect opportunity to blood some youngsters and allow them to gain first-team experience? Defeat in such circumstances can be forgiven as it’s important to keep the pathway from the youth team to the senior side open but NUFC fluffed their lines again and limped to a pathetic defeat devoid of any such silver linings.

Danny Rose

While his form has been slightly better since football returned from its enforced break, you wouldn’t think to look at Danny Rose that he was playing for a permanent move to Tyneside, or to try to force his way back into Jose Mourinho’s plans in North London.

Two years to the day since he featured in a World Cup semi-final and a little over 12 months since he started in a Champions League final, the on-loan left back looked badly out-of-sorts at Vicarage Road and has been far from impressive during his brief stint on Tyneside.

Having just turned 30, Rose still has the chance to become a key player at club level once again and to win back his place in the England side but question marks about his desire and commitment rather than his talent mean that, sadly, he currently looks more likely to fade into obscurity like Joe Hart than to rise to the challenge.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Watford 2 Newcastle 1 – Saturday 11 July 12.30pm

Goals:

Newcastle United:

Gayle 23

Watford:

Deeney 52 pen and 82 pen

(Half-time stats in brackets)

Possession was Watford 48% (48%) Newcastle 52% (52%)

Total shots were Watford 17 (9) Newcastle 8 (4)

Shots on target were Watford 5 (2) Newcastle 4 (3)

Corners were Watford 2 (0) Newcastle 4 (4)

Referee: Craig Pawson

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Manquillo, Fernandez, Lascelles (Lazaro 87), Rose (Krafth 79), Shelvey, Schar, Almiron, Ritchie (Joelinton 72), Gayle (Bentaleb 78), Saint-Maximin

Unused Subs:

Darlow, Muto, Yedlin, Atsu, M. Longstaff

Crowd: 00,000

(Steve Bruce blames match officials for Newcastle’s 2-1 defeat at Watford – Read HERE)

(Watford 2 Newcastle 1 match report: ‘Took a while for flip flop wearing version of Newcastle to emerge’ – Read HERE)

(Watford 2 Newcastle 1 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Saturday’s defeat – Read HERE)

(Watford 2 Newcastle 1 – Watch official match highlights HERE including all 3 goals and near misses)

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