When you have it your own way for most of a season, winning almost every game, there are bound to be those that crop up that are frustrating. That was last night for sure. It was frustrating for many reasons, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are:
- Eight points clear at the top of the league
- 16 points north of Liverpool
- Nine north of our opponents last night, as well as Man United
- 14 points clear of the Scum.
So in the vast reality of things, we’re still in pretty good nick.
You could see that this Newcastle team are a well-drilled unit under Eddie Howe. They press really well from the front, they have a lot of energy, they are strong and defensively a decent side. They have some absolute units in their team and they use their physicality to a degree of success. I was impressed with those parts of the Newcastle side and whilst I question whether they have the minerals to properly go deep in to this season for a Champions League spot (in the same way that I’m pretty sure we won’t sustain our form in this first part of the season, no matter how great its been), they are making a good fist of it.
In many ways, right now was a tough time to play them; maybe in a couple of months if they have a few injuries to players or are having to rotate a little more, or aren’t as in good form, perhaps we see a different result.
Perhaps the result is also different were it not for another series of pretty weak officials on the night. Andy Madley in the centre of the park, it is fair to say (and putting it mildly), didn’t have his best of games. He waved his cards out early for a couple of challenges – including a pretty soft yellow on Nketiah, yet Almiron was let off for a pretty obvious barge in the back from Xhaka. Do one or do the other – let Eddie and Almiron off or book them both, is what should have happened, but unfortunately this referee showed how he didn’t have control of the game and this was just one example of that. Exhibit two, as we all know, is the clear time wasting and feigning injury that the Newcastle players utilised to gay abandon once they knew that they could get away with it. Nick Pope took a minute and a half on goal kicks in the first half, Joelinton was down for a minute receiving treatment, Trippier spent a minute talking to the referee after Odegaard was fouled and let’s not forget multiple other instances of getting in the way, playing the dark arts game, etc. Yet the result in that first half? Two minutes. It was worse in the second. The ball was in play for a total of 53 minutes in that football match yesterday. That’s eight minutes less of football than a Premier League average. EIGHT. Yet no additional time made up for it. Football fans come to watch football, not goalkeepers kicking invisible mud from their boots, or assistant managers throwing the ball away from players that they are standing in front of.
But i’ve wasted too much time talking about such an issue, because if we’d have capitalised on the opening exchanges when we were on top, or if we’d have had one or two players who were a little sharper last night, I think we beat a decent but not spectacular Newcastle side. In truth they rarely threatened other than right at the end of the first half with a Joelinton header at the back post, but even though we dominated possession pretty much throughout the match, I can only really remember one fantastic save from Pope late in the game, which was the Eddie Nketiah shot which he saved with his feet.
You get games like this sometimes; I remember us battering Fulham at Highbury during the Invincibles season and yet we drew 0-0 in the end. It happens. The best thing to do is to say we didn’t quite hit our scintillating best and move on. But as mentioned with the refereeing performance above, as well as at least one pretty obvious penalty when Burn had a massive hold of Gabriel’s shirt in the box, some of the breaks didn’t go our way and certainly went Newcastle’s. Afterwards Arteta referenced that penalty, as well as the one right at the end, but for me that one isn’t as obvious. If it happens in our box with our defender I’m saying it is harsh, but then again if that happens in our box on that night last night, I reckon Madley gives it to them. He probably gave them a 60 to 65% swing of decisions on the night; not exactly something you expect as the home side, but I guess we just have to suck it up.
From an individual performance perspective I think there were some players that did well, but others that probably had a level dipped on recent performances. I thought Gabriel Martinelli appeared so reluctant to have a proper go at Trippier and I think in the first half after a couple of duels, he might have lost confidence that he had the beating of his man, because he didn’t seem to be making those out to in runs that have characterised his play so much this season. On the other side I thought Saka was our most dangerous threat all evening and skinned Burn on a number of occasions, but I don’t think we gave him the ball enough, which could be because the likes of Odegaard just didn’t quite seem as on fire as he’s been in the previous couple of games. He was decent enough, but in the final third it just felt like something was missing with Martin. Hey, it happens, I’m not going to chastise him.
And I kind of feel like that about all the players last night, to be honest, because it just didn’t quite click against a very organised low block Newcastle side. The ball never quite stuck to Eddie, we didn’t really see Xhaka popping up in those left half space positions until into the second half, whilst in the first I thought Zinchenko was misplacing a few passes that he normally does in his sleep.
It was a difficult night, made more difficult by a poor ref, but the important thing from our perspective is that we bounce back against Oxford in the Cup, then….gulp…The North London Derby.
Catch you all tomorrow.
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