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Newcastle United 0 Watford 3 (25/11/2017) 26/11/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- It’s a long time since I was last at St. James’ Park.  Previous visits haven’t been particularly enjoyable… in 1992 I experienced my only eviction from a football ground, a very different looking St James’ Park after diabetic hypoglycaemia distorted a conversation with the local constabulary.   And Gerard Lavin got sent off.   Seven years later, ig, Loz and I caught the train up during our ill-fated season in the top flight under GT.  A good day out was rather spoiled by the game in which we struggled manfully, played OK and lost anyway.  A mundane victory for the Magpies, the sort of defeat with a few brownie points but no, like, actual points that that season yielded so often for the Hornets.

How times have changed.  Not just in that we come up to St.James’ Park and win, not just that such a win isn’t a smash and grab or a massive shock in itself, though both of those are remarkable.  The truly monumental thing is that we can come here and not play that well, actually, and win 3-0.  And deserve to. And of course Newcastle themselves have a role in all of the above, they’re not an unmoving benchmark to measure ourselves against; before the game started it was pretty clear that with Newcastle at home but kinda blunt in attack, needing a win against a Side They Ought To Beat against counterattacking as lethal as ours, well…  this wasn’t the least favourable of circumstances to find ourselves in, the least likely of outcomes.   Nonetheless.  Remarkable that, despite the gushing that naturally followed perhaps our most eye catching result thus far, we didn’t play particularly well.

But we won 3-0 anyway.  We are that good.

2- Back to the beginning.  As previous visitors will know, the away “end” at Newcastle isn’t to be braved lightly.  Your vantage point is in the top tier of the Leazes Stand having braved a seemingly endless tunnel of concrete staircases.  Your view of Newcastle (and Gateshead, and Belgium) from up there is pretty spectacular; your Sensible Soccer view of the pitch slightly less so.  The air is thin, and you feel very much like an unwanted guest tucked in a corner out of the way.  The one gents’ lavatory, baffling row labelling and token, indifferent stewards are tantamount to the club looking at their watch and sighing “I suppose you’d better be going?”.  On the up-side, the large screen keeping us company up in the ether chose to display the highlights of a 2-1 defeat here in 1980, a welcome break from the normal diet of swish graphics and montages however arbitrary.

On the pitch we retained the same starting eleven that beat West Ham, one of a couple of changes on the bench seeing Daryl Janmaat’s greater versatility preferred to José Holebas.  One other change just about visible from our distance was a striking white mask sported by Marvin Zeegelaar, protecting whatever Andy Carroll’s elbow left of his nose.

The parallels with the West Ham game were plenty.  Once again, the game looked scruffy to start with;  we weren’t particularly on top, indeed the home side looked more purposeful. Blessed with a little more confidence, more conviction, a sharper cutting edge they’d have had the lead as Joselu spurned a good chance and then Gayle got the ball stuck under his feet as the goal briefly opened up for him.  As against West Ham, we looked get-attable.  As against West Ham Will Hughes popped up with a goal, and the game changed.

3- A fine thing it was, too.  Kabasele hoisted a marvellous diagonal ball to the galloping Zeegelaar on the left, the Dutchman (whose nascent chant, “ooh ah Zeegelaar”, has taken two games to appear, in contrast to to Holebas still waiting after 50) pulled back impeccably for Hughes to sidefoot home.  A merciless goal, the sort of thing that a struggling team concedes and then thinks “oh f*** this”.

Kabasele would be to the fore again as Newcastle regrouped and pushed on towards the end of the half.  It’s been a favoured observation that we’ve done well this season despite (for the most part) the absence of our three best central defenders, but if there was any doubt that Kabasele is now in a back three on merit its surely dispelled after this monstrous performance.  His speed and strength were to the fore in snuffing out the home side’s edgy attempts to get back into it;  in the second half he topped his performance off with an heroic diving block to a Mitrović shot.

We were put under pressure by the home side;  Doucouré and Cleverley, for all the performance’s accolades, were never as dominant as we’ve come to expect this season; Shelvey in particular looked dangerous and Murphy and Ritchie were asking questions.  When we did break, however, it was invariably threatening and invariably down our left.  DeAndre Yedlin has been singled out for criticism, not unreasonably, but more revealing to me was the lack of cover – or botheredness –  provided by Matt Ritchie.  A suggestion, perhaps, of why Bournemouth made the surprising decision to let him move eighteen months ago.

We had acres of space down the left, where Richarlíson would distract but his strength and awareness would release the overlapping wingback.  We got another break just before the interval, another overlap, a lucky deflection and we were two-up.  Slightly flattering, and then at the same time not.  We’d produced the game’s move of high quality, and had exposed our hosts’ limitations.

4- Any grinning sheepishness at our half time lead was dispelled in a second half which showcased our superiority.  As above, a counterattacking side two-up at goal-shy opponents is onto a good thing, the one “but” being that we didn’t capitalise further.

Chief culprit was Andre Gray.  There’s something of the Danny Graham about him in that his relentless movement is valuable to the team, even when he’s not scoring goals.  Tom Cleverley was a chief beneficiary of this during his loan spell however many years ago, and all of our midfield have similarly benefited from Gray dragging defences around. Here, his movement and alertness twice had him through on goal and twice executing extraordinarily feeble finishes breaking in from the left.  We’ve talked about Newcastle’s forwards’ lack of confidence but on both occasions Gray’s finish screamed of a lack of belief.  Perversely, up until now he’s not really wasted too many chances.  Not many bad misses… it’s not as if the way the team plays requires him to be on the end of every move.  Nonetheless, when you splash out a club record fee for a striker and he manages one goal in his first three months or so you expect a little more grace and sense than for him to cup his ear to the crowd as he did after completing the scoring.  In all honesty he’s not had  a lot of stick in the grand scheme of things;  little surprise perhaps that someone so thin-skinned displays such brittle confidence in front of goal.

At the other end, the other key development of the second half was the re-emergence of Sebastian Prödl in place of Miguel Britos, who hadn’t shaken off an injury inflicted by a bizarre foul from Jonjo Shelvey before the interval.  Another marker of How Far We’ve Come that we can do so well despite the absence of our Player of the Season for three months but we didn’t half know he was back.  Suddenly there’s a centreback looking like a centre-back ought to, dwarfing Dwight Gayle, getting his head on crosses, organising his defence with trunk-like arms.  He even thundered forward to drop a ball over Newcastle’s by-now clocked-off defence to provide Gray with his second spurned chance.  Welcome back, Seb.

5- An eye-catching win, then.  Not our best performance of the season by a long chalk, but an effective one in a game that suited us and that demonstrates that we’ve become something quite different, something more than a side punching above our weight by hanging around in the top flight.  We’re not a big club – not like Leeds, say, Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday.  Everton.  But we’re a very good, very potent one. Good enough, now, to win 3-0 away from home without being on our game.  Good enough to pick up points from more winnable games that make visits of Man United and Spurs games to be relished.

Yooorns.

Gomes 4, Femenía 3, Zeegelaar 4, Mariappa 4, *Kabasele 5*, Britos 3, Doucouré 4, Cleverley 3, Hughes 4, Richarlíson 4, Gray 3

Subs: Prödl (for Britos, 52) 4, Pereyra (for Richarlíson, 79) 0, Carrillo (for Hughes, 84) 0, Janmaat, Watson, Capoue, Karnezis

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Comments»

1. Roger Smith - 26/11/2017

“Shelvey in particular looked dangerous” – in the same sense as Andy Carroll, according to 3CR: lucky to stay on the field for more than a few minutes.

Matt Rowson - 26/11/2017

Not comparable. One bad tackle, which I’ve not seen replayed admittedly. Carroll had several opportunities to get a second yellow.

RS - 27/11/2017

Agreed, Shelvey had the sense to toe the line following his booking, Carroll however…

2. Olly DC - 26/11/2017

Thanks Matt, another good read as ever to keep an all-too-distant Hornet in touch with this unfolding fairytale. Another thing that really struck me yesterday was the strength of our bench – even with a few not available. Stick Chalobah, Deeney, Cathcart, etc in and this squad is looking even more impressive. On the flip side to that, massive credit to Kabasele, Mapps, Hughes, Femenia who would have been in few fans’ starting XIs back in August. Currently almost undroppable.

3. simon - 26/11/2017

I thought Holebas DID have a chant? Involving lots of woahs, always winning the ball and never smiling at all? 😉

Matt Rowson - 26/11/2017

Passed me by, if so…

4. sptemple - 26/11/2017

Re Andre Gray’s ear cupping, is it possible that it was a reference to how far away the fans were?

Matt Rowson - 26/11/2017

Nope.

5. Kris - 26/11/2017

As I replied to one of your tweets Matt, the players we brought on as subs in this one is a real marker for hos far we’ve come. Prödl, Perreyra and Carillo. All three are players who could be starting without complaint from anyone. We are not a big club as you rightly state and thank god for that. But we are an exciting club showing the world how a football club can be run. A Danish PrL podcast called our match with Chelsea the battle for third. While I found that ridiculous, with Everton being absolute shyte these days, 7th is up for grabs. I want us to compete for that.

6. Robert Hill - 26/11/2017

What determines a big club? Is it the size of the attendances, how many Youth players come through. NO. None of the above make a difference. It’s about winning games. Winning games on a regular basis and winning trophies makes you a bigger club.

So why can’t we be a big club?

I suspect under our owners this will be achieved. But the great thing is they have an understanding of the fans. What a magnificent way to help the fans get there after the coach broke down. That’s a big club. Couldn’t se many of the top 6 taking that action.

Kris - 28/11/2017

Do we want to be a ‘big’ club. As you say – depends on what defines a big club. To me it is about success of course but to achieve that it seems clubs have to become more of a corporation than a club. Leicester for example is not a big club despite their championship. Very few ‘big’ clubs manage to maintain a sense of club, connection to supporters etc. while evolving to the ‘big’ club.

I want us to become increasingly succesful, but not if it costs us our identity. That it seems the Pozzos understand – that connection to fans and wider community is at the core of our club. That while you might build a stronger business ignoring that, we’d be much much worse off.

We’re on an exciting path, and long may it continue – but big club? No thanks!

7. Boxmoor Jules - 28/11/2017

Yes, agreed re broken down coach. Immediate action taken by club, with Richard Walker to the fore. Well done Sir. Under advisement took binoculars. Good call!


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