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I’m Dying for This Season to End Right Now - Notes for Newcastle
Sunday, 16th Apr 2017 12:00 by HarryFromBath
HarryfromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Monday’s game at Portman Road by delving into their forums.
“We don’t make it easy for ourselves, do we?”, “We are limping over the line”, “One last push and we’re almost there”, “Stuttering to second place is unacceptable”, “This is one of the least enjoyable promotion seasons any team has endured”, “Just get out of this division. It’s horrible and I hate it.”
“An awful way to end a game.” Friday’s 1-1 draw at home to Leeds typified a campaign in which fans feel their side has flattered to deceive. They dropped two points to a stoppage time equaliser after dominating the game, this latest setback following on from last Saturday’s 2-1 loss away to Sheffield Wednesday.
“That late Leeds goal was sickening but we’re still eight points clear of Huddersfield with four games to play”, “We should have enough points to hobble over the line”, “Our points gap is massive so we are not really limping. The football is not great though, granted”, “What a poor league this is.”
“The end of the season can’t come quickly enough. It’s not how we thought it was going to pan out but that’s football”, “Our form has been pants for ages. It is the worst promotion push ever. Limp over the line and get this season out of the way. Sell the majority of this shower and start again.”
“This season has not been half as fun as I imagined”, “It’s so bloody annoying”, “We are so boring but I suppose the end justifies the means”, “It’s strange. We have been poor to average for months but it’s still looking like promotion. It proves the saying that ‘this is a tough league’ is nonsense.”
“Rafa is pound for pound the best we have ever had in terms of tactics, preparation and attention to detail, but give me a Sir Bobby Robson any day over a Rafa whose football this season has bored me rigid”, “Rafa had only one target at the start of the season and is well on the way to achieving it.”
Rafa Benitez and Mick McCarthy
Magpies have great faith in the 56-year-old former Liverpool boss for sticking with the club after last season’s relegation from the top flight. Many blame what has been a faltering run of form on United owner Mike Ashley after the club failed to strengthen the squad in the January transfer window.
“Rafa is a conservative manager who is going to take the safe option every time”, “Finally we have a manager at the helm who knows what he is doing”, “Finishing in the top two with this squad is to his credit. He has mapped out the season well”, “Christ, but is he cautious until he has no other option.”
“In January, those above Rafa decided we could do without strengthening”, “I trust Rafa to replace the poor players in the squad this summer but have no faith in Ashley letting him”, “We will waste the summer window if we don’t back Rafa from the off but I’m not sure that Ashley is listening.”
An Overstretched Squad
“How many first XI players do you think we will need for the Premier League? Quite a few I think”, “This squad needs a complete overhaul for the top flight but we all know that”, Half of this squad is not fit for purpose next season”, “This XI would struggle to get 30 points in the Premier League.”
“Our squad is limited in quality and it is showing after a long and tough season.” Magpies believe that the lack of quality in the squad to cover recent injuries across several positions has cost them points of late. “Another massive player clear-out will be needed if we go up this season.”
Controlling the Game
“Rafa’s approach is to gain control first before going on to attempt to increase the tempo”, “Benitez changes tactics regularly but keeps the same formation. One week it is long diagonals, the next week down the channels all the time”, “I have a feeling he will grind out draws to get us over the line.”
Newcastle starting XI for Friday night’s game with Leeds (below) lined up in Benitez’s preferred 4-4-1-1 / 4-2-3-1 shape. Fans were happy enough that it was the best available side but deficiencies both in the opening line-up and replacements were highlighted by watching Magpies throughout the game.
“Rafa’s game plan is based on being able to deal with whatever the opposition throw at us and then exploiting their weaknesses. Our defenders haven’t been able to deal with set pieces so no wonder he is agitated”, “Ask that back four to do some basic defending and they can’t. It needs ripping apart.”
“The defence is terrible.” The back four has missed the leadership and organisation of the injured Ciaran Clark. “Our defenders, particularly through the centre, struggle helplessly when exposed”, “God, we are dreadful at defending set pieces”, “How the hell can we simply switch off like that?”
Geordies were delighted on Friday to see the return of Isaac Hayden from injury to partner Jonjo Shelvey in central midfield. Benitez has played Mo Diame and former Town loanee Jack Colback in his absence. Diame has struggled playing out of position but Colback is seen as a complete liability.
“Our left flank needs overhauling this summer.” While Matt Ritchie on the right is seen as one of the side’s most dangerous threats, the lack of a natural left winger has unbalanced the side and led to Yoan Gouffran covering out of position. “When the ball goes down our left flank I simply give up.”
“The lack of a solid midfielder next to Jonjo Shelvey, a competent left winger and a proper number 10 really affects our play”, “Rafa likes the number 10 role as it controls the midfield and his tactical approach is about controlling the game. Our lack of a number 10 is why we fail to control games.”
Ayoze Perez has been criticised for being lightweight in the playmaker role, but the loss of striker Dwight Gayle to a series of hamstring injuries in recent weeks has been far more alarming to fans. The former Peterborough man is seen as the side’s best finisher by some considerable distance.
“Does our team have an issue with finishing? It seems that we don’t take proper advantage in games when we create chances”, “We have an issue finishing chances off”, “Without Dwight Gayle we offer nothing going forward “We got bitten on the backside against Leeds for not taking our chances.”
Benitez withdrew Ritchie for full-back DeAndre Yedlin and Hayden for Colback in the closing stages of Friday’s game. Fans commented that the introduction of the wayward Colback in particular gave Leeds the initiative after Newcastle had taken the lead and completely dominated the second half.
Newcastle 1 – 1 Leeds
“What a joke, typical of this season”, “I hate everything right now”, “This feels utterly deflating”, “Devastating to concede so late in the game”, “Shambolic defending in the 95th minute”, “It ended badly, but that performance was the best display I have seen from a Newcastle side in a long time.”
Newcastle took control of the tie after the first 15 minutes and their increasing pressure finally told when Jamaal Lascelles headed home on 65 minutes. Their inability to finish off more of their chances came back to haunt them when Kemar Roofe’s late cross was put away by an unmarked Chris Wood.
“We should have had that game wrapped up 10 times over”, “Colback coming on changed the game. Leeds started getting control of the midfield”, “One of our best displays in terms of creativity and drive, but we totally lost composure at the end. Rafa will be livid”, “We shot ourselves in the foot.”
Sheffield Wednesday 2 – 1 Newcastle
“Atrocious”, “Possibly the worst performance of the season”, “We didn’t desire anything from this game”, “We could have sealed promotion today but it appears we just couldn’t be bothered. The players want a rocket”, “Wednesday just wanted this more in every way”, “We were out-battled.”
“We will be lucky to get a point from this.” Geordies were fearing the worst by half-time as the hosts took control of the game. Headers from Tom Lees on 59 and Steven Fletcher on 68 minutes gave the Owls a deserved lead before Jonjo Shelvey pulled a consolation goal back with two minutes to play.
“It’s hard to draw any positives from that”, “There are so many cowards in that team”, “Defending like jelly babies cost us the points”, “That is some of the worst set-piece defending I have seen”, “We actually conceded from a throw-in”, “We will get ruined in the Premier League with that defence.”
“We have no legs in central midfield. That and our patched-up back four are our biggest problems.” Magpies on seeing the line-up (above) felt that Shelvey would get little help in midfield from Diame or Perez. Their misery was compounded when Gayle hobbled off with an injury after half an hour.
Newcastle 1 – 0 Burton
“What a mad evening that was”, “I’m just relieved to get the three points”, “That is the most bizarre game of football I have ever seen. I can’t get my head around that penalty and I never will”, “Some very nice passing, we played our best football in a long time but still lacked that final ball or finish.”
“Eight pages of match discussion, 20 pages of penalty discussion.” Brewers were bemused by referee Keith Stroud awarding them a freekick in error after Magpies encroached for their own penalty kick but home fans were enraged by the decision. Matt Ritchie’s later 68th minute winner was incidental.
“Welcome to the world of Championship refereeing”, “They must pull random blokes off the street to referee in this league”, “In what circumstances can that be a freekick? Foul and insulting language between the ball being struck and crossing the line?”, “I swear to Christ that it only happens to us.”
“A tough game we handled really well.” Benitez has used the same back four in each of the last three games but he tried to solve the problem on the left flank against the Brewers by putting right winger Christian Atsu in the starting XI (above) and switching flanks with Matt Ritchie throughout the game.
Goalkeepers and Defenders
“Karl Darlow is a fantastic shot stopper but has terrible judgement as to when to come off his line, command his area or organise the defence anywhere near well enough.” The 26-year-old ex-Forest keeper “does well pushing shots out of the danger zone but he makes poor decisions and errors”.
“There are too many mix-ups between Darlow and his defenders. He doesn’t know when to stay or come off his line, getting caught out advancing or failing to take easy claims”, “He has recently been a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous. His mistakes are not just about poor communication.”
“Paul Dummett was awful, utterly awful at Hillsborough.” The 25-year-old youth product “is average at best defending but more importantly is absolutely woeful with his forward play. His passing skills are Sunday league at best”, “The reason some people dislike him is because he can’t play football.”
“Dummett is good in the air, which is unusual for a left-back”, “Rafa prefers a left-back who defends to one who occasionally skins a couple of opponents”, “He punts the ball up forward because he has not got the skill to do anything else”, “He struggles to control the ball and pass it to a team-mate.”
“Benitez’s insistence of playing out from the back, looking for one-twos, passing and moving the ball is essentially Vurnon Anita as a player.” The 28-year -old ex-Ajax right-back “has got a good football brain but is not blisteringly quick and less attack-minded”, “He is not as direct as DeAndre Yedlin.”
“Anita is good at playing one-twos in tight areas”, “He suits that defensive style which hinders our scoring”, “He was absolutely toasted last month by Fulham’s 16-year-old Ryan Sessegnon from start to finish. He was out of position too far forward and coming inside, lacking pace to recover position.”
“DeAndre Yedlin offers better support to Ritchie down the wing and is more of an attacking threat.” The 23-year-old ex-Spurs man “gives us genuine width. He relies on his pace to recover his position but can get pushed off the ball easily. His deliveries are poor for the positions he gets himself into.”
“We are really missing Ciaran Clark.” The 27-year-old summer addition from Aston Villa has been out with a knee injury. “His distribution from the back is calm and composed and he can also ping a fine 30-yard pass”, “He knows when to put his foot through the ball, pass it short or just hoof it out.”
“Rafa has taken Clark’s game to another level”, “He never truly had a good manager at Villa and he is now fulfilling his potential”, “He’s fairly quick, decent in the air, comfortable with the ball at his feet and knows where to be”, “He doesn’t stand out and impose himself but is consistently very solid.”
“The problem with Chancel Mbemba is that he is comfortable on the ball but weak as hell.” The 22-year-old former Anderlecht centre-half “is a decent footballer but horribly unsuited to the English game “, “A good player technically, but a defender switching off is an accident waiting to happen.”
“I like how Mbemba nips in front of the striker to pinch the ball and he releases pressure by bringing the ball out from the back”, “His communicating with Darlow is consistently poor”, “He’s champion on the ball but he’s not a natural defender”, “He makes Titus Bramble look like Franz Beckenbauer.”
“Absolutely terrible positioning by Lascelles cost us the Leeds goal.” The 23-year-old former Forest centre-back “scored his goal, job done, but we were still playing. He has been a liability for too long”, “He was in absolute no-man’s land and did not look around once to keep an eye on Chris Wood.”
Matt Ritchie and Jamaal Lascelles
“Lascelles fell asleep at Hillsborough. He costs us a goal every week”, “He’s okay with the ball ahead of him but in behind and he goes to shreds”, “He turns very slowly, the slightest bit of pace does him completely once he is square”, “All of a sudden he seems to be panicking with the ball at his feet.”
“I’m sick of watching Jack Colback chasing shadows all game or contributing nothing defensively. He is a toothless coward.” The 27-year-old ex-Sunderland man “offers no protection to the back four”, “I have never seen a player work so hard at being unavailable for a pass”, “Absolutely horrendous.”
Jack Colback playing for Town on loan
“Colback is too slow and doesn’t anticipate play”, “He loves strolling around in no-man’s land”, “His ability to give away freekicks in dangerous areas is astounding”, “The opposition have sussed that they can suffocate Shelvey when Colback plays because of how little the traffic cone provides.”
“Isaac Hayden being back is huge for us.” The 22-year-old former Arsenal youth product played on loan at Hull last season. “What a difference it makes having someone with power and athleticism in midfield”, “He looks more like a natural box-to-box player but he lacks composure in the final third.”
“Hayden gives us more control of games, he gives us movement and drive in the centre of midfield”, “We don’t get dominated so much and are less fragile defensively. He’s not afraid to put a tackle in”, “We don’t have a replacement who can do anywhere near as effective a job”, “He’s a class act.”
“Ayoze Perez is such a low impact player. He is too easily snuffed out for all his nice touches.” The 23-year-ole former Tenerife man “lacks purpose and drive. There are glimpses of what he could be, great touches and technique but he’s largely anonymous”, “He is slow, ponderous and lightweight.”
Ayoze Perez scores past Chambers and Webster
“When Ayoze arrived, he looked like he had genuine pace. Now he’s persistently second to the ball against slow defenders”, “Often he is second to the ball because he is scared of getting a whack. He shirks so many challenges and 50/50s it’s unreal”, “I still don’t know what his best position is.”
“Mohamed Diame has been terrible in the number 10 role Rafa bought him for.” The 29-year-old ex-Tiger “has this lazy ‘I have all day’ style of play which right now is the last thing you want”, “He never hides from the ball and puts in a shift but he just doesn’t have enough of an impact on the game.”
“Diame seems to be way past his physical plateau, his legs seem to have gone”, “He is never there physically for 90 minutes and has looked exhausted”, “He can win the ball high up the park but his distribution is poor”, “He is not suited to being the creative pivot. He lacks creativity on the ball.”
“Shelvey is an essential cog for Rafa’s system, particularly with us lacking a decent number 10.” The 25-year-old former Liverpool and Swansea player “has great moment, spreads our play and is the player most likely to create anything”, “His contribution is always in isolated moments of brilliance.”
“Keeping his head will be a challenge Jonjo will face next season”, “He’s taking responsibility without doing anything petulant this season”, “He had no impact on the Owls game whatsoever then nearly scored the goal of the game, that was him in a nutshell”, “He was at his best earlier in the season.”
Wide Midfielders and Wingers
“Yoan Gouffran is hard working and does a job, but is mediocrity personified.” The 30-year-old ex-Bordeaux man “is truly hopeless on the wing and a huge reason why we are hopeless at taking the game to teams”, “His ball control is terrible but he’s good at putting pressure on the backline.”
“Rafa plays Gouffran for defensive balance”, “He has more movement than anyone except Gayle up front”, “He runs around a lot, tracks back well and has a decent instinct in the box but that’s it”, “He is an absolute hindrance to our attacking play”, “A safer, more positionally savvy option than Atsu.”
“Christian Atsu offers a bit of pace and doesn’t give away brainless freekicks five times a game like Goudffran.” The 25-year-old former Porto man is on loan from Chelsea with Newcastle having an option to buy him. “He brings a bit of attacking pace and unpredictability and he can be a threat.”
“Just because Atsu has a lot of the ball doesn’t mean he does a lot of good with it. He fails to control the ball too often and makes the wrong decisions, he rarely uses his pace which is his best attribute”, “His one-footedness and indecision on immediately going past people let him down and need work.”
“I hope Ritchie stays for years to come.” The 27-year-old former Cherry “is Rafa’s Dirk Kuyt and there are definite similarities there”, “He has been our most consistent player, assists, goals, leadership, graft and he has been injury free”, “Without him we have nothing out wide to drive us forward.”
Matt Ritchie celebrates scoring against Town
“Ritchie is the equivalent of Freddie Ljungberg who will look to graft and attack the box from wide”, “He doesn’t have pace or flair to worry Premier League defenders but his effort is unquestionable”, “Motivator”, “We are so reliant on him grabbing games by the scruff of the neck at the moment.”
“Aleksander Mitrovic has been a disappointment in this league.” The 22-year-old former Partizan Belgrade and Anderlecht frontman “is a poor finisher and doesn’t have a striker’s instinct for goals”, “His main asset is that he puts himself about but English defenders are very good at dealing with this.”
“Passion is not a quality if you don’t have pace or good finishing ability”, “Mitrovic’s main asset is his physicality and holding the ball up”, “His movement and positioning are appalling. He hardly ever makes correct runs to put himself in scoring positions”, “He is a poor striker and we all know it.”
“As soon as Dwight Gayle went off at Hillsborough it went downhill.” The 27-year-old former Palace striker picked up a hamstring injury in that game and is a doubt for Monday’s game. “The guy is like lightning and is a natural”, “He is always there when there are chances. He’s a magnet”, “He’s mint.”
Berra v Dwight Gayle
“Gayle is very quick off the mark and his game relies on darting timed runs off the ball”, “His pace makes him a constant threat with balls over the top”, “He grafts like hell and helps the team see out games by relieving pressure”, “We would struggle to be in a promotion spot without his goals.”
“Murphy was originally an underwhelming signing but has done better when called upon without us having to worry about his attitude”, “He clearly knows the game well through his experience and has made some vital contributions to our season so far”, “He should be involved heavily in the run-in.”
The 34-year-old late August addition from Town “is now becoming a bit of a cult hero. He has done a great job whenever he has been put in the side, unsettling Brighton defenders and scoring a crucial goal at Huddersfield”, “He patiently waits for his chances and takes them when given, a proper pro.”
“Murphy is less mobile than Mitrovic but he is a much more natural striker in that he takes up better positions in and around goal. He’s more of a presence in the right area at the right time”, “He has a hardened swagger about him and he knows exactly where to put himself about on the pitch.”
“Murphy is the man”, “Whenever we play a long diagonal pass to him, he does a quick check over his shoulder, creates a bit of space and flicks it on perfectly for the winger or attacker to run on to”, “He far outstrips the Prima Donna called Mitrovic”, “The Murphster delivers again, he’s a proper striker.”
Magpies’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“The Ipswich game is a huge one Monday and nothing short of a win will do. They tend to play the long ball and play defensive so we have to be mindful of our defence ourselves when attacking”, “We really need a win and I think we'll get it”, “Please just win.”
“Uncle Mick will do us a favour and they'll roll over.” Magpies have had very little specifically to say about Monday’s game at the time of writing but they are split 50/50 on their forecast polls between an away win and a stalemate. The prospect of defeat is unthinkable.
“Hopefully we bounce back and play like we did against Leeds away to Ipswich in which case I'll have no worries”, “Win and it’s as good as over, lose and it’s the beginning of the erosion”, “We have only won two of our last seven. We need to win this. If we don't I think Huddersfield may catch us.”
“Bobby was great for us and what he achieved was remarkable”, “He was a genius to turn us around. I also enjoyed watching the football at the time, all the pieces slowly coming together on and off the pitch”, “He was brilliant at getting the best out of what he had but he was also very flexible.”
There were some interesting comments in a discussion about Sir Bobby’s time at the club and how he went about transforming their fortunes on the pitch.
“Bobby was sharp as a tack on football knowledge”, “He used Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson’s strength in the air to play direct when he first arrived but he introduced pace and energy in midfield and we switched to a fast passing style which was lethal on the pitch”, “He brought it all together.”
“Bobby extracted the most out of every player. Shearer was transformed and Gary Speed became a different type of player. The season after he left was a joke and we have never been the same since”, “He did a remarkable job by anyone’s standards.”
There are a large number of busy and insightful Newcastle forums. Newcastle Online is very active and quite easy to navigate.
In case you missed it, here is also a summary of Magpies’ deeply affectionate thoughts on Sir Bobby which I posted on the forum last October.
Photo: Action Images
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