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‘My optimism pendulum is wavering on the point of negativity but…’

1 month ago
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It’s funny how easily the optimism pendulum can swing.

We started Sunday second bottom, have won just one of our three recent must win home games and are embarking on a month riddled with unenviable challenges.

Yet, I spent most of the week becoming more and more confident that we would cause an upset.

We’d just had our first win and clean sheet of the Premier League season and had been unlucky not to beat Norwich despite playing the majority of the game with ten men.

Leicester had a Covid outbreak, a midweek exit from the Europa League and subsequent entry to the Europa Conference League, which Brendan Rodgers has admitted he has no idea about. We’d won three of our last four visits to the King Power Stadium. The fact that Eddie Howe had never beaten Leicester in nine attempts there, just felt like a tasty bit of fate tempting.

The game started positively, the away fans in full voice. They spent the first few minutes introducing themselves and letting everyone know that although we’ll win nothing this year, that we still follow United. Not long later, letting the home fans know that their support wasn’t quite up to scratch.

An early injury to Jonny Evans was a double positive as it meant they lost their best centre back and used a substitution early, which could impact tactical options later on. They shifted Ndidi from midfield, which would surely expose not only their central defence but also their midfield. And it did have an impact in those early stages.

For the first ten minutes or so, the Foxes looked so shaky you’d think the hunting ban had been lifted. Early pressing led to a couple of mistakes from their defence. When Evans picked up the injury, Soyuncu tried to header the ball away but it went straight to Wilson who passed to Joelinton. The reborn Brazilian found Almiron in the box who smashed his effort into the sidenetting. Wilson then won the ball off Ndidi and managed to power into a bit of space out wide. His attempted cut back was almost headed into the back of his own net by Soyuncu.

Leicester weren’t really threatening and Castagne picked up an early booking which would make facing ASM all the more dangerous.

A Maddison free kick skimmed the top of the net but other than that, the first twenty minutes Leicester looked like all their ill fortune had caught up with them.

Lewis got a soft booking halfway through the first half and we were almost punished by the resulting free kick. Maddison whipped the ball in, and Wilson nodded it precariously across our six-yard box. Ndidi appeared around the back, but his header looked unlikely to go in and Dubravka ensured it didn’t by palming it away.

On Sky Sports they helpfully halved the screen to update us on the Formula One (which didn’t feel even slightly relevant) whilst we tried to play out from the back and gave away a penalty. I couldn’t see what was going on with the screen halved but I recognised what the referee pointing meant. Once I’d seen a couple of replays, I thought the penalty looked harsh. Lascelles’ leg is out and Maddison does make contact with it. But it was one of those ones there is a leg in the vicinity and the attacker takes the opportunity to hurl themselves into it. To avoid Peter Bankes having any doubt, Tielemans helpfully stopped play and practically blew the referee’s whistle for him.

VAR didn’t come to the rescue, shock! Tielemans stepped up and smashed the penalty into the back of the net.

We were the better side after that before the break and went into half time with a bit of confidence. We played some decent football and exerted some pressure.

At half time I had to pinch myself several times as I found that I was agreeing with both Souness and Pardew. When watching the replays, they both stated that it shouldn’t have been a penalty and that Maddison had won it craftily. It’s strange that VAR can’t overturn clear and obvious errors. If the referee appears to be able to see it and it’s not ‘clear and obvious’ then it won’t get changed. But all the ones I’m seeing are clear and obvious. It’s a bit like the police reviewing footage of a theft but saying they can’t arrest the criminal as the security guard was right there. If a decision is wrong, just change it. At least get the referee to have a second look so that he can decide if he made the right decision initially.

What would the second half hold? Up against a team that hasn’t had a clean sheet since the opening day, surely we would throw everything at them to get back into the game.

Unfortunately, we didn’t create much other than a few shots from outside the box that didn’t worry Schmeichel.
It was Leicester that found the moment of magic during a nothing period. A clever flicked ball by Maddison cut our defensive line open. Manquillo’s lazy kept Barnes onside who was through one-on-one with Dubravka and selflessly played it to Daka who took a touch and then passed it into the empty net.

At 2-0 down it looked a long way back. How far, we were yet to discover.

A quick note on Willock. What has happened to the man that transformed our season last year?

In that crazy scoring run everything seemed to be going for him. His confidence seemed so huge that the football was beginning to orbit him. Balls would be deflected regularly into his path for him to belt home. His last goal against Fulham he carried the ball the length of the pitch, got tackled only to see the ball ricochet back into his path off a couple of defenders for him to fire home. This season he’s not getting any of that luck. He’s not running with desire and purpose and he’s not getting chances or taking the few that are falling his way.

He’s a player that definitely needs a confidence boosting goal.

His moment almost came today.

ASM passed him the ball in the centre of the pitch about thirty yards out. He ran straight into a challenge but the ball bounced back to him like it was Jan to May 2021. Unfortunately, his left foot strike went straight over the bar.

Shelvey did what we all wanted and gave Maddison a forearm to the face whilst challenging for a header. VAR didn’t intervene fortunately, even though Maddison spent longer on the floor than Deontay Wilder a couple of months ago.

Murphy and Fraser came on as wing backs, although they felt more like wingers. It seemed to be a three-man defence with those two pushing up the pitch to give more options.

We huffed and puffed but the closest we came to scoring in the whole second half was when Castagne hoofed a 40 yard back pass that almost caught out Schmeichel.

If the Dane hadn’t managed to scurry back and clear that off the line, we may have had a game on.

Instead, a few minutes later Leicester showed us how a team should link up. Murphy lost the ball just inside the opposition half. Daka was released down our right and took two touches before cutting the ball back to Maddison. Our public enemy number one took the fizzed pass well and laid it off with his second touch. Tielemans, in loads of space, took a touch and then rifled it into the roof of the net.

Including the tackle and pass to Daka, there was a total of nine touches. Nine touches from four players and the game was beyond us.

ASM managed to wriggle through what felt like the entire Leicester team, staff and home support but when he tried to pull the trigger, had the ball nicked off his toe, which somehow resulted in a goal kick.

Then Ritchie came on for Shelvey and must have done his classic of not relaying instructions quickly enough as we were 4-0 down before he took his first touch.

Maddison, who had been at the heart of every single goal, got one of his own. Another case of us losing the ball and having it in our net within a few touches. Joelinton had his pocket picked by Albrighton and Maddison played a one two before popping the fourth into our goal. Including the tackle this goal came from just five Leicester touches!

At 4-0, Eddie Howe experienced just what it means to have this crowd behind him. Instead of boos and whistles he got continuous singing and even a spell of ‘Oles’ when we had a sustained period of possession.

The scoreline wasn’t reflective of the performance. We matched Leicester in most areas, but they had players that were far beyond any of ours, despite the fact they had close to a full team of squad players injured or infected. The likes of Tielemans, Maddison and Ndidi would all be huge upgrades on what we have in midfield. Barnes and Daka are excellent players and played huge roles in the victory too.

ASM looked frustrated and rarely up for it today. Wilson was isolated and barely got a kick all game. There are three professional footballers in the Willock family. Did we definitely sign the right one?

But I refuse to get down about the game despite the whopping we received. Nobody else pulled away from us over the weekend, with only Burnley moving a point further ahead. If we can reach January with only a six or seven point gap to safety, I am confident we’ll be able to attract enough quality to drag us out of the bottom three. We need to be identifying those signings now though as, ideally, we want most of our additions to be made as early as possible.

My optimism pendulum is wavering on the point of negativity but it’s not quite there yet. I still think we can get something out of this month.

On to Liverpool away on Thursday and a front three that makes Daka, Maddison and Barnes look like Luque, Ranger and Xisco.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Leicester 4 Newcastle 0 – Sunday 12 December 2pm

(Half-time stats in brackets)

Goals:

Leicester:

Tielemans (38 pen, 81), Daka (57), Maddison (85)

Newcastle:

Possession was Leicester 47% (56%) Newcastle 53% (44%)

Total shots were Leicester 8 (3) Newcastle 12 (4)

Shots on target were Leicester 5 (2) Newcastle 3 (0)

Corners were Leicester 4 (2) Newcastle 6 (4)

Referee: Peter Bankes

Crowd: 31,959 (NUFC 3,300)

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Manquillo, Schar, Lascelles, Lewis (Murphy 62), Shelvey (Ritchie 85), Willock, Saint-Maximin, Almiron (Fraser 62), Joelinton, Wilson

Unused Subs:

Darlow, Hayden, Hendrick, Krafth, Gayle, Fernandez

(Garth Crooks with glaring omission on Leicester 4 Newcastle 0 match – Read HERE)

(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Leicester 4 Newcastle 0 – Read HERE)

(Leicester 4 Newcastle 0 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)

(Leicester 4 Newcastle 0 – Where do you start? Read HERE)

(Leicester 4 Newcastle 0 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Sunday’s hammering – Read HERE)

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin

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