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Newcastle United – One step beyond

3 days ago
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Newcastle United 3 Brentford 3 : The Dawning of a New Era.

It was clear from the start that this game was going to be one to watch.

Not just because Newcastle and Brentford seem to have been practicing the same version of the worst long throw in routine that you can find on YouTube, the ball barely reaching the penalty area. More so because both teams started in attacking formations, neither team looked comfortable at the back and there was more space on view than a Brian Cox documentary.

NUFC had already nearly scored from a Wilson header just wide and an ASM shot at goal when they went ahead. That the first goal of the game was from a set piece was a surprise, firstly in that United had produced a good one, but also the ease with which Lascelles headed in Ritchie’s excellent delivery. Lascelles wheeled away in his Captain Fantastic goal celebration. That was as good as it got, for him and his defence.

Just over a minute later Brentford equalised through Ivan Toney. Having gone ahead, NUFC had a chance to take the game away from an obviously punch-drunk away team. Had United retained the possession that was quickly handed to them after kick off, gone for another goal, or simply taken the heat out of the game for a few minutes, then this result would probably have been different.

Not only did they not do it, they couldn’t even repel the Bees first attack, failed to clear their lines repeatedly and when the ball fell to the unmarked Toney inside the penalty area but very wide, his powerful shot went straight through the player who used to be Karl Darlow. It was like Steve Bruce had never left. Absolute chaos.

It was a significant pointer for the rest of the game. Our keeper was gone and never regained any sort of composure. Our defence was unable to defend even the simplest of attacks. Neither could theirs. Our midfield could not protect our back three, clear their lines or retain possession under pressure. Fortunately, they weren’t put under any pressure. Ivan Toney would remain unmarked for the rest of the game. There would be as many goals as each team could score and each team was powerless to prevent otherwise.

Wilson had a couple of what looked like half-chances, JL7 the same. Maxi put one over the bar, Schar and Murphy shot from distance. Brentford capitalised on suicidal defending to burst forward and score a goal which was flagged offside. We had the customary two-minute wait to see whether it was offside or not. United had lost possession, Lascelles had gone to ground, a powerless shot had been deflected past a static Darlow onto the post to ricochet into Toney and into the goal. This was bedlam.

The Final Frontier‘Midfield. The final frontier.’

Brentford went ahead when the excellent attacking wing-back Rico Henry got on the end of a cross from the equally attacking other wing-back Sergio Canos. Not only was Henry completely on his own six yards out, it was something which our wing-backs never did, get into the oppositions penalty area on the back post.

Eight minutes later, the new Neymar got the equaliser. Even though his new haircut just looks like a bald patch from the back of the Gallowgate, JL7 capped an otherwise stylish first half with a competent finish. Having defended well all half and becoming an increasing attacking threat, JL did what he has failed to do since we signed, put the ball in the back of the net and look like a player. The new Head Coach’s first formation did what his predecessor could never do, get the best out of the Brazilian. Toney cleared a Wilson chance off the line just before half time.

The second half was a little more reserved early on. Both teams gave their half time pints time to settle. It might have gone on like that had Lascelles not capped an increasingly forgettable performance by unfortunately deflecting the ball past Darlow, who had given up trying to pretend that he was playing. For the first time it looked like United would lose. The Bees were buzzing and the Magpies had Covid-19.

Seventy first minute substitutions have been heralded to have changed the game and sometimes that sort of simplistic tub thumping is misplaced but in this instance it is hard to argue against that conclusion. United went to 4-4-2 with Schar being replaced by Longstaff and Willock by Fraser. There were immediately multiple benefits. Schar had played ok and Longstaff was poor so it wasn’t personnel, it just immediately made United look more compact and at least put a body in between our central defence on the on-rushing Brentford midfield, something which had been missing up to that point. Fraser was different, he played well, looked energised and looked like he was there to make a difference. Willock had been a passenger up to that point.

NUFC poured forward, Maxi was absolutely on fire and tormenting those in red and white. Not just because he scored but he was belting around the pitch and taking everyone on. His goal was a virtual replica of the goal Henry had scored before, a good Fraser cross, an unguarded ASM, a right foot volley through the goalkeeper.

Joelinton‘The new Neymar?’

Now it looked like the game was ours. It should have been, JL7 put through on goal, a dozen yards out, should have shot and scored but instead cut back onto his left foot when there was no need to do so and slipped, thus reminding us of the JoeLinton who had graced SJP up until the 20/11/21.

For all JL was much improved on Saturday, one of our best players even and definitely a player who could make a contribution, the formation which brought the best out of him, also brought the worst out of Wilson. Increasingly marginalised in wide areas where he was easy to mark, Wilson was the most negatively affected player by his new master’s tactics. He was a shadow of his normal self, in what was a combative role rather than one which would allow him to use his pace, instinct and finishing ability. Something for Howe to consider overall but most specifically, it was our plan and not luck which meant our best finisher wasn’t able to take the chance to win the game, instead occupying defenders and dragging them away from the danger area and thus nullifying his own threat.

Overall, this was great entertainment in a tremendous atmosphere and generally that is enough for me as the supporter of an under-achieving but never dull football team. However, it undoubtedly won’t be enough to keep Newcastle United in the Premier League.

If I was the new Head Coach at NUFC, professionally speaking, this match against a very entertaining and likeable team that will very probably finish in the bottom eight, would give me sleepless nights.

For all the positives of a more eager team, a much more attacking performance and three goals in a game for the first time in ages, there were an equal number of negatives. Some of those negatives will be down to individual player performance and can be easily fixed by improving or removing those players. Eddie Howe will have to resolve some other tactical issues quickly and while I am on his side and will give him the time to resolve those without too much criticism, he will get me firmly onside straight away by doing the simple things well.

One issue I have had for most of Steve Bruce’s tenure which continued on Saturday was a difficulty in understanding the team formation. Maybe we were spoilt under Benitez. There was never any doubt what he was trying to do and how he was going to achieve it. If a player was out of position, Benitez would tell them. If a player made a mistake one week, they were coached not to do it again. If they made the same mistake a second time, we never saw them again.

The BBC website said NUFC lined up in a 3-4-3 and I presume they had some advance warning of that, they didn’t just make it up. This was never 3-4-3 though. It was sometimes a 3-4-2-1 and sometimes a 3-4-1-2. Whether that was deliberate is up for debate. What I hope happens very quickly is that whichever formation is played, the players know what it is and how to play it. The first part is immediate, the second part can take a bit of time. The longer it takes, the more likely it is that it shouldn’t continue. The team have enough problems running and passing without over-complicating the formation. Something for Eddie Howe and his team to ponder this week. Get a simple formation which makes it easy for the players and brings the best out of them. Something Steve Bruce never achieved.

To me, that means the three at the back has to go. Schar played ok, even though he made defensive mistakes against Brentford, including one very amusing misjudgement of the ball which thankfully came to nothing, except him pretending to be injured afterwards. There was no defensive resilience about United on Saturday, Brentford could have scored any amount of goals, Ivan Toney absolutely bossed our defence for the full ninety minutes. He played really well despite getting what I considered to be disproportionate pelters. It seemed to inspire him rather than affect him. Clark, Lascelles and Schar had no answer to his bullying and that Brentford only scored three goals was down to defensive effort, luck and wayward finishing, rather than ability or organisation. On leaving SJP I couldn’t help feeling that this was Brentford we had played, not Chelsea. Then I remembered we had played Chelsea recently and that they had scored three goals as well. Was this defensive performance better? I honestly do not think so.

That those three defenders had no protection in front of them did them few favours. Shelvey was excellent on the ball, a passenger off it. That isn’t his fault, that is his game. If he plays then Willock can’t play alongside him, he is an attacking player. It has to be someone more defensive. Shelvey was erratic on Saturday, too often abandoning his position and meaning that Brentford has a clear path to our soggy paper bag of a defence. That isn’t undermining how well Shelvey made the team tick when he had the ball, just an observation on how porous the midfield was defensively. If you want an example, the one which Shearer highlighted on MOTD which led to Brentford’s third goal was typical. Conceding the goal wasn’t his fault, but he could have prevented it long before it happened. by being where he should have been.

I am hoping that personnel wise, Howe will quickly come to the same conclusion as most of the rest of us, that Dubravka is a certain starter and Karl Darlow can go. Darlow made mistakes in this game, flapping at crosses, piling out of his area and not getting there and conceding the first goal, just over a minute after going ahead, was crucial. If you had a book of all the errors a keeper can make in one game and had to tick them off like an Autumnwatch challenge, it would have been prizes all round today.

Brentford were looking a little over-awed, United went ahead, the crowd were jumping. That is absolutely not the time to urinate on everyone’s bonfire. Few teams can afford those sorts of mistakes, teams bottom of the league, one up after ten minutes against opposition whose confidence was draining away, definitely can’t. Brentford were back in the game for good after that.

Still, what is apparent is that the players were trying, motivated to win the game and keep their jobs and gave it their all. That is half the battle and something completely missing previously despite the protestations of the now departed scrimshankers. I believe it will keep the crowd onside too, which will be vital.

We all know that Hadrian’s Wall wasn’t built in a day. It is my belief that NUFC will be relegated this season, too many of those now historic twelve games were games which the Toon should have won. But is certainly within their means to get to forty points, thirty four points from twenty six games is undoubtedly achievable with the players on board and some new additions. What needs to happen immediately is an upturn in effort, confidence, organisation and delivery. Some of that happened on Saturday, some of it discussed above is easily remedied, the rest comes down to getting the points on the board

Jason Tindall went all Steve Bruce after the game cherry picking the odd statistic here and there:

“We looked a lot more of an attacking threat today – we had 23 shots at goal, nine on target so I think it was a big step forward for us.”

Although I accept that 23 shots is better than none, I watched the game, it was entertaining chaos, more possession, more shots, all made it a match worth watching. The opposition scored as many goals as we did and could have had a few more. We could equally say that not winning this game is a step backwards.

Thomas Frank gave a more honest, balanced, dare I say…Frank assessment of the game. I hope that both of these teams remain in the Premier League and I get to enjoy mad games like this again next season.

One game into the new era I am hopeful that will happen but by no means convinced that it will.

One Step Forward? One Step Back? One Step Beyond.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Newcastle 3 Brentford 3 – Saturday 20 November 3pm

Goals:

Brentford

Toney 11, Henry 31, Lascelles own goal 61

Newcastle:

Lascelles 10, Joelinton 39, Saint-Maximin 75

(In brackets the first half stats)

Possession was Brentford 48% (45%) Newcastle 52% (55%)

Total shots were Brentford 10 (7)  Newcastle 23 (16)

Shots on target were Brentford 4 (4) Newcastle 9 (7)

Corners were Brentford 2 (0) Newcastle 8 (5)

Referee: Robert Jones

Crowd: 52,131 (Brentford 3,000)

Newcastle United:

Darlow, Murphy, Schar (Longstaff 71), Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie, Shelvey, Willock (Fraser 71), Saint-Maximin, Joelinton, Wilson

Unused Subs:

Dubravka, Hayden, Lewis, Krafth, Manquillo, Almiron, Gayle

(Alan Shearer excellent as he tells it straight on good AND bad parts of Eddie Howe’s first game – Read HERE)

(Eddie Howe deputy gives verdict after Newcastle 3 Brentford 3 – Read HERE)

(Newcastle United part-owner issues public message to fans after Eddie Howe’s first game – Read HERE)

(Thomas Frank really fair after 3-3 draw despite no invite to the ‘big party’ at St James Park – Read HERE)

(Martin Keown spots Newcastle’s very obvious weakest link against Brentford – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 3 Brentford 3 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 3 Brentford 3 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Saturday’s draw – Read HERE)

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