If a team can play not very well and draw – Sign of a team which isn’t complete rubbish?
There is an often repeated footballing adage which says that if a team can play badly and win, then it is a sign of a good team. I suppose it is also true to extend that adage to say, that if a team can play not very well and draw, then it is a sign of a team which isn’t complete rubbish.
That is roughly where Newcastle United stand right now. Always hard to beat, always well organised and committed. Mostly maintaining a good level of performance, defensive resolve and attacking threat. All of that is consistent, except when the best attacking players are missing, then the threat becomes intent.
A change from previously when missing Maxi and Wilson meant defeat, now it means not winning games rather than losing them. A definite improvement.
Not that United played particularly badly against Bournemouth. The possession stats were through the roof, even if most of the possession went nowhere. That is often the case, even for the best teams. More chances were created by the black and whites, more shots on target than the opposition, even if none of those chances were clear, the best chance fell to Bournemouth’s Tavernier in the first half. It was just all a bit half-hearted, predictable and under par.
It doesn’t help when your team are missing their best two attacking players and the player who makes the team tick is half fit, Bruno played well but he was struggling from the off.
It is also doesn’t help when the game starts with a minute’s silence and God Save The Queen or King blasting out across SJP (and not the version I have on my iPod). I was surprised with the collective outpouring of grief / respect, I couldn’t care less to be honest and most people I know are the same. I still respected the nation’s right to mourn, it just isn’t any sort of a way to start a sporting event. I went to see a band on Monday, thankfully they didn’t start their set in the same way.
Given the missing players and the lack of atmosphere at the start of the match, it was easy to see why United were slow to start and Bournemouth quickly gained confidence. There were a few shots from distance, quick breaks and tricky bits of play to keep everyone awake, but overall the game was predictable. NUFC dominated possession but created nothing, the Cherries hit quickly on the break but did the same. As Bruno got into it so did the Toon. Trippier’s free kick hit the post after Bruno was fouled. That was one of several free kicks where Trippier could have shot but in the others he didn’t, NUFC must have employed some sort of set-piece specialist because the free kicks were inventive and well thought out. They were just badly executed on the final touch. And not as threatening as Trippier scoring. It is a simple game football.
Our best spell came after the half hour mark. JL hit the inside of the post, had a shot saved and Fraser had a chance tipped over the bar, all in the same period of play. Around the same time Tavernier headed wide in a rare Bournemouth attack. Still the goal which would open the game wouldn’t come. Nor would the chance that would lead to it, apart from the JL shot saved, the rest were more half-chances than good ones.
The second half started in a similar fashion but as Bruno tired, NUFC lost their way. I wouldn’t say Bournemouth’s goal was coming, they created very little in the game, but they were in it more. The flick from Billing’s twenty-foot pipe-cleaner legs seemed to take everyone by surprise and the Cherries were ahead. Fortunately, they couldn’t hold the lead for long.
Trippier advanced into the area via a delicately lobbed Schar pass and his cross hit an out-stretched hand. His appeal was immediate but from where we were sitting it didn’t look like the offending arm was anything but by the defender’s side. VAR suggested otherwise, the referee agreed, so did MOTD and the Cherries didn’t kick up a fuss. I have seen it again. The rules say it was a penalty but it isn’t a rule I agree with, except when NUFC get them.
Isak tucked the penalty away and we roused ourselves for a game-winning onslaught. That never came, despite being camped in the final third of the pitch. Again, it wasn’t helped by a seventieth minute of applause for the departed monarch. These mid-match minute’s applauses either have to stop, or the game should be stopped to have them. I understand the sentiment and always respect the cause, but it is like dropping your bait in bed during a bit of mattress matadoring, the momentum is generally lost afterwards.
Longstaff replaced Bruno, who was done in. Murphy replaced Fraser, I have no idea why. Wood came on for Almiron with five minutes to go, again, not a substitution I understood. With a big man in the middle United stopped crossing the ball into the box, perhaps because both of the wingers went off, perhaps because rather than having two big men in the box, Isak was moved out to the left to do what exactly no one knows. The game did a Rishi Sunak, disappeared with a minimum of fuss.
This was my first trip to SJP this season and the first time I have seen NUFC play (or anyone else for that matter). Overall they lacked spark, the passing was slow and the players looked tired. There is still opportunity to win games when like this, as I said earlier, NUFC are a much better team than a year ago. They still dominated this game, still wanted to win it, something I like very much.
One glaring issue on Saturday was that JL and Willock pushed very wide and high when NUFC had the ball, which often meant that Bruno was our only midfielder. That is ok when he is on the ball, he’s a brilliant player, but it did leave the defence with less options for a pass, meant that the wide players often got in the way of the midfielders and when NUFC lost the ball, a pacey Bournemouth had the whole middle of the pitch to run into. Fortunately, they didn’t do it very well, just very quickly. NUFC need someone else in midfield who occupies the centre, Bruno is too good an attacking player to be limited to that role and it is a poor game plan which surrenders the centre of the pitch to the opposition.
The other issue I had was that in the second half, Tripper and Miggy had loads of space and lots of chances to cross the ball. With only an outnumbered Isak to cross too, I was expecting Wood to come on much earlier. Even when he did, United never crossed the ball to him. If Wood has any strengths they are as a target man. I know people say that the bench was poor and that there was nothing on it that would change the game. Going a bit more direct might have, like having a central midfielder to feed Bruno and team-mates. It is an easy out for people to question a bench which has admittedly limited ability when alternative approaches are available. Teams often throw extra bodies up front, go three at the back or bring on players who cross and ask them to just cross it into the box, even if it is only for fifteen minutes.
Maybe Eddie Howe (who is now not the only King I hear) had decided that keeping the point and the unbeaten run going was just as important as winning the game. He might be right. A bit of mid-table stability and getting the team out of the habit of losing might be a decent target this season. No one likes to draw a game they could have won. Everyone hates losing a game they could have won.
As for the new players, I have seen Pope before playing for Burnley but didn’t really remember him. I don’t usually remember the games against Burnley to be fair, so he isn’t the only Burnley player to be new to me. He played well enough, he watched the game with as much enthusiasm as I did.
Isak I have seen a lot for Real Sociedad. He was regressing after some initial promise and last season, in a good team, was particularly uninspiring. His all-round play is good, he is fit and strong and has good feet. Maybe that season not scoring but having to create space for Silva, Merino, Januzaj and Oyarzabal has made him more of a team player, he could be in the team for other reasons than to score goals. The £60million paid for him smacked of desperation but I suppose the likes of Haaland, Jesus and Lewandowski choose where and when they go and for how much. Proper goalscorers get to choose. Neither Isak or NUFC are yet able to decide where, when and for how much. In a few years time perhaps.
For Isak himself, while he was poor against Bournemouth, he just didn’t seem up for it, an understanding of his limitations and hope that he will grow into a goalscorer back up his general work ethic and ability to link up play. Certainly, now isn’t the time to judge him, playing against packed defences isn’t his game, especially without any help. However, something for United to think about is that they have spent over £80million this year on strikers who won’t score many goals.
Anyway, I enjoyed my first game of the season and saw enough to know that United are good enough to achieve something this season which they haven’t been able to for a long time. I can look forward to a season where I don’t have to worry about points lost or whether the third bottom team have won away in a game we thought they would lose.
Some things need to fall into place for the Toon to finish above top half but time is on their side and they have a solid foundation for a decent season and a cup run at the very least. This performance wasn’t great but it was a lot better than the carnage we have put up with in the years before. Looking up is much better than looking down. Not having to look anywhere but the pitch is a refreshing change for now.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Bournemouth 1 – Saturday 17 September 3pm
Isak 67 (Pen)
(Half-time stats in brackets)
Possession was Bournemouth 27% (32%) Newcastle 73% (68%)
Total shots were Bournemouth 10 (3) Newcastle 20 (6)
Shots on target were Bournemouth 3 (1) Newcastle 7 (4)
Corners were Bournemouth 1 (0) Newcastle 8 (4)
Referee: Craig Pawson
Attendance: 52,238 (Bournemouth – Not many)
Pope, Trippier, Schar, Burn, Targett, Bruno (Longstaff 72), Willock, Joelinton, Almiron (Wood 89), Fraser (Murphy 71), Isak
Karius, Botman, Lascelles, Ritchie, Lewis, Manquillo
(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Newcastle 1 Bournemouth 1 – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 1 Bournemouth 1 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)
(Every sympathy as Eddie Howe missing three and a half of his front six – Newcastle 1 Bournemouth 1 – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 1 Bournemouth 1 – Allan Saint-Maximin clear man of the match – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 1 Bournemouth 1 – The instant NUFC fan / writer reaction – Read HERE)
If you would like to feature on The Mag, submit your article to firstname.lastname@example.org