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If you thought Sunday at Wembley was frustrating – You need to have experienced it in Belgium

12 months ago

Before I start this latest tale from Belgium.

Firstly, any religious references here should be taken at face value. I am a dyed in the wool atheist.

Secondly. I started this article before Newcastle United played at Wembley and didn’t finish it until after the Carabao Cup Final had played out. Obviously.

After the Liverpool game, I thought nothing else could go wrong.

On checking my cable TV listings for the weekend, it would appear that this is not the case. They hadn’t shown any of the Carabao Cup matches up until now in Belgium but I thought they would show the final… WRONG!

My beloved was talking to her boss in the US who’s a ‘huge United fan’ (them not us) and he was completely unaware that they were playing on Sunday.

Realistically, the Carabao Cup is not such a big deal outside of the UK.

Nor indeed in it… the only report I’d seen by Friday morning on the BBC news was a brief comment wondering if Man U would be able to end their six year long domestic trophy drought at the weekend… I think maybe someone needs to go back to journalism school. Football Focus put that right to a degree but not hugely.

So it was out with the trusty Raspberry Pi, hoping to find a good stream in a language that I can at least partially understand.

Interesting to see the traditional pro Manc bias on the BBC once again coming to the fore. Si year long domestic trophy drought, the tribes of Israel only wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, yet we have been wandering through the domestic trophy desert for 68 years. That’s longer than some people get on earth. Obviously it’s now going to be 69…

You would think that there might be a story in there. Dispatch a reporter and camera crew up North to soak up the atmosphere. Nah, why bother with that when the real news is happening just round the corner: Ten Hag making soundbite headlines while obscuring the fact that most people actually find that Man U are really annoying.

The BBC, with all of the usual journalistic rigour and non-partisan bias of your typical Laura Kuenssberg interview, just trotting out the new truth. Newcastle are unworthy, time wasting, unsportsmanlike, maybe even cheating, opponents for one of the sacred cows of English football.

I was also intrigued to see how the black and white invasion of London was going to be reported.

To date I haven’t seen anything negative.

I remember after Newcastle played Club Brugge, the police chief went out of his way to praise the behaviour of the Newcastle fans. Subsequent visits by other fans to Belgium have not been so well received with people climbing the old city gates, water cannons being used in the streets next to the stadium, and only two weeks ago Club Brugge and Cercle Brugge fans fighting in the city centre after their most recent 2-2 draw.

Anyone lucky enough to have been at Newcastle’s match at the Jan Breydel stadium will know it’s a bit of a walk back to the town centre. As both teams ground share it makes that scenario even less likely. Lazy journalists have no interest in letting the truth get in the way of a good story.

And that would have been the same had anything happened in London.

Tomorrow, or whenever you read something in the press, or hear something on the radio or tv… just remember it’s not that long ago that Boris Johnston was repeating the lies of Rupert Murdoch’s journalists about Liverpool fans at Hillsborough. Just because someone says it’s true doesn’t make it true. Brexit being an interesting point in fact. I went to the supermarket yesterday and the extreme weather conditions allegedly responsible for empty vegetable shelves in the UK seemingly having no effect in Belgium.

Anyhow, moving swiftly on.

My pre match prediction of 4-1 to the Toon with a Miggy hat trick was not to be.

I have never lived in a time where Newcastle have won anything… except the Fairs Cup when I was four and a half years old. So I was already primed for the disappointment.

It always seems to be the teams in red that rain on our parade.

Despite me breaking out the industrial size bottle of Duvel at half time, we still couldn’t break through the red bus that was parked in front of their goal.

And the Dutch slap heed talks about us playing negative football and time wasting!

However, to just answer the question the football purist out there may be asking: they weren’t doing anything wrong, they were playing a low press…

According to the BBC it was a great defensive display and a lesson in playing on the break. It was certainly a good lesson in Manchester United repeatedly fouling in transition and the ref not having the bottle to deal with it.

The ‘big six clubs’ get away with more fouls in transition than anyone else. Man City are the masters of this domestically, but Messi honed it to an art form at the world cup… and being Messi got away with it.

Another 12 months and maybe we’ll be back at Wembley again. Not something I have been able to say before. However, this time I feel it might really be the case.

Karius did himself proud and kept us in the game with a couple of good saves. Not quite the redemption he and we’d all hoped for but I would be more than happy for him to get a permanent contract from us. Clearly Dubravka is going to be off in the summer and Karius is a serious upgrade on Darlow.

Botman had a game to forget and hopefully he will. Then we can move on.

Lifting the Carabao cup could have been a stepping stone but we have to make sure that reaching the final doesn’t become our high water mark for this season.

Those of us who have grown up knowing nothing other than disappointment will just accept that this is yet another in a list of nearly but not quite moments.

This time I do feel that there is the potential to move on from that and I am sure that Eddie and Mad Dog will be doing their best to get the lads firing on all cylinders.

It’s not ideal to be coming back from defeat at Wembley to be facing Man City so I don’t think the bounce back will happen straight away. However, the glass half full perspective is that it might give Eddie an opportunity to take a few risks in a game no one realistically expects us to win.

One thing that does worry me is that we have started to get caught in possession a few times: the danger of a high pressing game is that it’s a long way to run back, or like against Liverpool where they bypassed the press and it’s an even longer way to run back. And at the other end we can’t seem to find a way through.

At this time in the season the legs are getting tired and concentration levels are not what they were at the beginning of the season.
This is where our thinness of squad is working against us. There isn’t the depth of talent to swap out underperforming players with hungry like for like replacements. Investment must come in the summer to make sure that we can do that and from what Amanda Staveley said post-match, that might just well happen.

I don’t think we were outclassed in the last two games and maybe if we were able to start converting goal chances into goals we might have come away with something more.

I quite liked Wilson and Isak playing up front together and if that means that Joelinton and Bruno have to learn to operate at times as a midfield two, maybe that is the way forward to break the deadlock. With the 4-2-2-2 we seemed to end up with at Wembley we looked more dangerous… but then the defence needs to be more switched on than they have been over the last few games.

However, let us not lose sight of the fact that, essentially, Eddie is doing something similar to what King Kevin did. He has taken a squad of largely journeymen players, sprinkled a bit of stardust on top and got them producing the best form of their careers.

Bumps in the road come along and this is no more than that.

As long as we can stay in the European places I will be more than happy with this season.

The Unfair Play Rules designed to prevent newcomers breaking into the cartel mean that we have had to tread slowly and carefully in our team building. Being able to offer European football will help recruit ambitious forward thinking players wanting to join a like-minded club.

I’ll stop this rambling tale from Belgium here, before I add another 10 paragraphs blathering on about something else that annoyed me on the BBC…


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