I forced myself to relive yesterday – Please enjoy
The dawn of a new season should always be a time for excitement and anticipation but this one really should have been more.
A year and a half of empty grounds (barring a token 10k v Sheffield United) was at an end, bars could be accessed without appointment and people could meet friends without any of the restrictions that have blighted the past 18 months.
Of course, we don’t really do joy round here, and the downpour that typified an August day in Newcastle was soon to be reflected on the pitch.
To be fair, it all started rather well.
Many will have doubted they would ever see Joe Willock back as a Newcastle player throughout the protracted transfer saga, and while aspersions will and should be cast about the incompetence of failing to register him in time to make yesterday’s squad, it was surely a lift for those in the ground to see him unveiled pre-match.
This jolly atmosphere persisted into the opening stages, as a refreshing front foot approach culminated in Callum Wilson celebrating his first game in the number nine shirt with yet another goal against the Hammers, heading home after Saint-Maximin had utterly bamboozled the defence with trickery before providing the killer cross. Five minutes into the new season and now one nil up. Too soon? Surely not…
The game was incredibly wide open as ASM led the home side in taking the game to the visitors, who themselves looked equally as dangerous on the counter attack. This soon proved damaging, as Aaron Cresswell’s low centre ended up in the net, apparently without anyone adding a touch. West Ham celebrated but they were cut short by a linesman’s flag.
However, we were forced to experience the misery/joy/misery effect of the VAR overruling our salvation, in an echo of a similar occurrence in last year’s opening home game, the surrender to Brighton.
This didn’t derail Newcastle though, as a thoroughly spirited ending to the first half was actually very enjoyable to watch. Almiron’s effort was deflected just onto the top of the bar, Wilson’s attempt at a cheeky backheel just failed to catch out Fabianski and Clark headed narrowly over from a corner. It felt like just desserts when the lead was restored heading into half time, with Ritchie’s deep cross headed in by Jacob Murphy for, surprisingly, his first goal at SJP.
This first half felt refreshing after the misery of (most of) last season. If our attacking players were as fired up as this and available for the majority of this year, it might not be so bad you know. There was a small concern over the way the central midfield and defence was coping with West Ham’s attacks, but we’d come out on top so far.
Of course, this was all utterly blown apart within 20 minutes of the restart. We still went out to attack but seemed sluggish and disorganised. ASM suffered a rare dispossession in the middle of our half and got punished as Antonio’s cross was headed in by the poorly marked Benrahma. This signalled a West Ham onslaught we just couldn’t cope with.
Ten minutes later Antonio’s effort came back of the bar and, amid chaos in the home box, Murphy was adjudged to have fouled Fornals. This seemed a harsh call, but once again the VAR was not our mate; penalty. Freddie Woodman then marked his home debut with a fine save to his left from Antonio, but Ritchie was slow off the mark to the rebound, and Soucek bashed it in. Moments later Antonio atoned for his penalty error, somehow finding an absolute acre of space that just screamed ‘goal’ as soon as he received it – 66 minutes, Newcastle 2 West Ham 4 and the game was gone.
There was real cause for alarm in this second half surrender, with questions over player fitness, selection and game management, as well as grumbles about VAR. However, I have to say I didn’t feel nearly as angry as I did on so many occasions last season, when the old 25% possession trick had cost us as we invited yet another opponent on to tear us apart before clinging on to lose 1 or 2 nil. The attacking intent was impressive, certainly in the first half, but there were two obvious issues. Shelvey and Hayden were dominated by the impressive Rice, and faded badly as West Ham cut through the middle of the park, time and time again. One of them at least should be replaced by the Willock integration.
The second issue is one that is glaringly obvious for me.
Earlier this summer I got pulled up for my inclusion of Jamaal Lascelles in a list of Newcastle’s top centre halves. I have no doubt that Fernandez, Schar and Clark are all better footballers, but what was missing today was clearly leadership and organisation. I expect a recall for the captain will shore this up, and if you want to pour scorn on that, do a bit of research into concession collapses that have happened when he’s in the team versus when he’s not.
As anyone who has played in that kind of role will tell you, an organising voice is critical and this lot seemed to be mute. There is also a case for giving it a double Jamal / Jamaal, as the pace of Lewis would have been an asset yesterday, even if just for reacting to the penalty.
Villa will be a big game, as they still seem in a bit of a post-Grealish daze if their own opening day defeat at Watford is anything to go by.
So, a bit sh.t but could have been worse. Chin up lads, lasses and non-binaries, there’s a way to go yet.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 2 West Ham 4 – Sunday 15 August 2pm
Wilson 5, Murphy 40
Cresswell 18, Benrahma 53, Soucek 63, Antonio 66
Possession was West Ham 53% Newcastle 47%
Total shots were West Ham 18 Newcastle 17
Shots on target were West Ham 9 Newcastle 3
Corners were West Ham 6 Newcastle 7
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Woodman, Murphy, Krafth (Sean Longstaff 84), Fernandez, Clark, Ritchie, Shelvey (Fraser 70), Hayden, Almiron, Saint-Maximin, Wilson (Joelinton 85)
Gillespie, Gayle, Schar, Lascelles, Lewis, Hendrick
Crowd: 50,673 (3,000 West Ham)
(Former top referee rules on this controversial Newcastle v West Ham incident – Read HERE)
(West Ham fans comments reacting to eventual domination and 4 goal Newcastle demolition job – Read HERE)
(Newcastle v West Ham player ratings results from NUFC fans – A true picture – Read HERE)
(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Newcastle 2 West Ham 4 – Read HERE)
(Steve Bruce blames match officials for 4-2 home defeat to West Ham – read HERE)
(Newcastle 2 West Ham 4 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Sunday’s demoralising defeat – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 2 West Ham 4 – It’s not how you start it’s how you finish – Read HERE)
(Mike Ashley refusal to invest at the back will cost Newcastle United dearly based on this – Read HERE)
(David Moyes has zero doubts – A ‘travesty’ if West Ham hadn’t beaten Newcastle United – Read HERE)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
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