The Newcastle United equivalent of going to work with a bad hangover…usually
Newcastle 1 Burnley 0 : A Christmas Callum.
Burnley at home is always the least anticipated game of the season. It is the football equivalent of going to work with a bad hangover.
I attend these games purely out of a sense of duty. It is hard to blame Burnley themselves. They are a club with a small budget doing very well to be where they are, from a town which doesn’t have a lot going for it and with a manager who whilst doing an admirable job, does it looking like he is auditioning for SAS: Who Dares Wins and coaches his team to perform at the same level of endurance.
Throw in that NUFC hadn’t won a game all season and had to win this one, a few days after failing to win the last one the team had to win. Well, it was a four nurofen extra pre-match diet.
On the way to SJP I predicted a tense 0-0 and thought about taking a book along just in case. Maxi was to be the key, the enigma who had opened the Clarets defence with that je ne sais quoi in the last couple of games that we had won against the Lancastrians. It didn’t turn out to be like that at all. There was a goal. A precious goal. Hopefully a priceless goal.
When it came, it came out of nothing. I take some of the credit for it by just minutes earlier suggesting that high, hopeful and pretty awful crosses into the box are pointless and will get no reward against a Clarets defence which looked more like a WWE tag team. Football eh? What do I know?
A high, hopeful and pretty awful Willock cross had been dropped by the English Pope under pressure from Schar. Wilson was alive to the drop and took the ball sideways before belting the ball through the Burnley Urak Hui into the net. We celebrated and sang “Hey Callum Wilson….” with reducing fervour until VAR had decided that no foul had been committed some time early on Sunday morning. I thought it was a foul. Not because I saw it clearly from the Gallowgate, more because the referee thought it wasn’t a foul and he had got absolutely every single thing wrong up to that point. Paul Tierney, take a bow.
Games against Burnley are always dull affairs and in these games you don’t need a strong referee or one who brings a calm competence to proceedings. What you need is one who fills the entertainment void by making it up as they go along.
‘Sean Dyche impersonating Rafa Benitez earlier this season’
After the game, Sean Dyche gave up on putting himself forward for the next James Bond and said that once the goal went in “the crowd got behind them instead of against them.” He generally seems to be a fair enough man if over-keen to look tough and talk like Tom Waits but he couldn’t resist that dig against a team who had fairly comfortably beaten his clone army.
As for the content, the crowd definitely played a part in the victory and sang all the way home. While there were the first murmurings of discontent in the first half an hour and some were obviously against some players failing to press when Burnley had the ball or push forward when NUFC did, the crowd were never “against” the team. This was not a hostile atmosphere to play in, it was a positive one. Even JL has his own song now and it isn’t “who put the ball in Rochdale’s net JoeLinton, JoeLinton.”
Any earlier comment was more “howay” than “Howe man”, more in exasperated cajolement than outright negativity. The back geese honking at the front goose to keep the formation and pace up as was the plan. The supporters seem to me to have relished the departure of Ashley, Charnley and Bruce, the ghosts of Christmas Past and been invigorated by the new era of effort, the support to the team over the last few games has been brilliant. As for Sean Dyche, if he keeps panning Toon fans, he can take his pick of any Midlands clubs to manage when he finally leaves Burnley.
United were well on top now but it is harsh on the team to say that the goal was a massive turning point. True, it gave NUFC confidence at exactly the right time and did the exact opposite for Burnley. True, goals change games anyway, that’s what the game is all about, but United had put behind them a lacklustre first half an hour and were getting on top in the game, the goal came at the end of a ten-minute period where the Toon were building a head of steam. If not the catalyst to this, the injury resulting in the departure of Maxwel Cornet played a huge part. Cornet was Burnley’s best player up to that point, the only one who can do something different, the only one not created on Kamino from Jango Fett’s genetic template.
When the team was initially announced there was no doubt some off-field consternation that Captain Lascelles had returned, Fede had been rested and Schar was going to go head-to-head with Burnley’s aerial bombardment, not his strong point. As it was, in the first half hour Wood was expert at isolating and beating Schar, leaving Cornet either attacking Lascelles, or in space when catching the skipper napping. It was going to bring goals. A deflected Gudmundsson shot hit the post, which Dubravka had covered, Cornet was lively and threatened twice. When he went off, so did most of the threat. Lascelles and Schar could concentrate on doubling up on Wood and whoever was free could handle Vydra, without the pace, trickery or ability of Cornet. Only once someone forgot to mark Vydra, the chance came on the stroke of half time, in acres of space in our penalty area, the Czech bleezed wildly over the bar. We poured scorn. Burnley has lost their Cornet, now they were all flake and no sprinkles.
‘Burnley’s second half performance’
Schar played well at the back, despite being softer than a teenager’s blackhead. In some games the crowd spends more time applauding him back onto the pitch than anything else. Manquillo and Dubravka also did what they do well, except for a dodgy game of passy inside the penalty area in the first half. The real heroes at the back though were the returning captain and Lewis at left back. Lewis looked nervous on Tuesday but much more confident on Saturday. He looked like a proper full back. Lascelles was commanding and outstanding. He stood up to be counted and marked Wood as well as anyone can be expected. He even played Rodriguez offside for a late, chalked off equaliser. I’m giving Lascelles the benefit of the doubt there but in the end it was our first clean sheet of the season and that says it all.
It also backed up Eddie Howe’s decision to return him to the team alongside Schar and leave out Fernandez, something few of us probably wanted. On Tuesday, I criticised Howe for getting those big selection decisions wrong, so it is only fair I applaud him for getting them right this weekend. Good leaders in any walk of life, sport, politics, business, whatever it is, they consistently have the knack of making the right decisions. Sometimes those decisions are based on instinct and the results are proved to be right because of a bit of luck. Pope dropping the ball on forty minutes means that Eddie Howe’s calls were brave and correct. That’s football. The more of those calls he gets right, the more successful a manager he will be.
Not that the win was lucky in the end. NUFC were excellent in the second half. The defence rarely gave an inch, even in the last ten nail-biting minutes when Burnley went for the equaliser and lobbed balls into the box. Those last ten minutes were the only time in the second half when the excellent Shelvey hadn’t succeeded in encouraging the team to retain possession, when the lung-busting runs of Miggy and Maxi hadn’t caused panic in the Burnley defence. There was a period of five or six minutes in the second half when United were camped in Burnley’s penalty area, Pope saved from Miggy, Collins deflected the same player’s goalbound shot wide without knowing anything about it and several corners were delivered expertly into the danger area rather than hopelessly into the goalkeeper’s hands. NUFC actually looked like a team who could play football, who could win games and possibly escape relegation.
‘Callum Wilson: I come bearing gifts’
Credit to all who played. As mentioned earlier, the defence were solid. albeit against a one-dimensional team who did little to earn any attacking credit. Shelvey again made the team tick and alongside him Willock was this time around a more willing runner. I still thought he was our least best player but that is different to being our worst player. His effort went up, he ran with more purpose and looked more confident. Hopefully as the team becomes better, Willock will grow with it. Not that ASM and Miggy look like they ever lack confidence. For the last hour of this game they both ran tirelessly and directly at Burnley, something no defender ever wants. They ran out of steam late on and were both replaced but for half an hour in the second half they were on fire.
JoeLinton again showed improvement, worked hard and played like the big unit he is, which was vital in the second half when Burnley wanted to bully their way to a point. His ball skills have improved and he made a couple of good runs with purpose, the only let down was a late pass which should have put Jacob Murphy in to score but there wasn’t enough weight on the pass and some lanky slid in to block. As I said on Tuesday, JL’s renaissance will never be complete without end product. He can take a leaf out of Callum Wilson’s book. Wilson played exactly like JoeLinton did. And scored. That is a key difference between the players. They are of course slightly different sorts of players but one has scored twice this week and the other has scored none. Like Willock, let us hope that an increase in JoeLinton’s confidence is the only thing holding him back from scoring the vital goals which Callum Wilson has brought to the table in the last season and a half.
At the very least NUFC should now know that it is well within their reach to finish third bottom having played Norwich and Burnley this week. They should back themselves to get more points than both of those teams over the remaining 23 games. Eddie Howe mentioned confidence after the game and that will be key:
“We have tried to bring our philosophy to the team, to be front-foot and more aggressive. Confidence is key in any sport and we have lacked that, but today goes a long way to rebuilding that.”
It might be a little early to say that a 1-0 home win over Burnley goes a “long way” to rebuilding anything except clearing that migraine, but he hit the nail on the head later:
“Historically we have said you need to take points off the top teams and that will be the task in December.”
It will. By my reckoning United are about six points behind the points total they need to creep to forty points this season. At the start of the season I wasn’t expecting much from the games between now and the New Year. They need to find a couple of special wins if they are going to take any real confidence into January, the first of three months which was always going to decide our fate.
As for Burnley, the last gravelly word goes to Sean Dyche who said:
“Not all goals can be lovely goals.”
This one certainly was.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Burnley 0 – Saturday 4 December 3pm
(Half-time stats in brackets)
Possession was Burnley 52% (52%) Newcastle 48% (48%)
Total shots were Burnley 10 (6) Newcastle 18 (7)
Shots on target were Burnley 1 (1) Newcastle 4 (1)
Corners were Burnley 3 (1) Newcastle 10 (2)
Referee: Paul Tierney
Crowd: 51,948 (Burnley 1,600)
Dubravka, Manquillo, Schar, Lascelles, Lewis, Shelvey, Willock, Saint-Maximin (Murphy 90+1), Almiron (Fernandez 85), Joelinton, Wilson
Darlow, Ritchie, Hayden, Hendrick, Krafth, Longstaff, Gayle
(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Newcastle 1 Burnley 0 – Read HERE)
(Eddie Howe with confident declaration for Newcastle United fans – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 1 Burnley 0 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)
(Alan Shearer celebrates at St James Park “A winnnnnn and a clean sheet, is it Xmas!!!?” Read HERE)
(James Tarkowski has a staggering viewpoint on this defeat to Newcastle United – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 1 Burnley 0 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Saturday’s victory! Read HERE)
(Newcastle United WIN! – Read HERE)
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