It was a frustrating day on Saturday. Hughes’ early goal had us fearing the worst 90 seconds in, yet many left St James’ Park feeing like we wasted a big opportunity to beat a poor Watford side.
Nevertheless, it’s another point on the board and a performance that left us with several positives and negatives to ponder as we enter the dreaded international break.
Here’s a few, starting with the positives:
The three new boys looked the part – Willems, Joelinton and Krafth all put in strong displays. Willems needed to after news of Ritchie being ruled out for 2 months, and the Dutchman was a constant threat from left wing-back, showing class on the ball with some clever passes and wicked deliveries into the box. Joelinton didn’t get too many sights of goal, but his all round play was impressive, with his link up play and work rate being impressive once again. As for Krafth, he didn’t catch the eye as much, with Willems doing far more attacking work than the Swede, however he defended very competently and dealt with anything Watford threw at him convincingly.
Christian Atsu continues to impress – The Ghanaian has often been criticised for poor final ball and drifting out of games, but he was central to most things we did well in attack on Saturday and linked up impressively at times. He looks quicker, sharper and more confident on the ball, with his upturn in form coming at a perfect time now Saint-Maximin looks set to miss ‘3-5 weeks’.
4 points from our last two is good going – Going into the game against Spurs just over a week ago we were all fearing the worst, so if someone had offered us a point at Tottenham and a win over Watford we’d have well and truly bitten their hand off! Being held at home against a side who didn’t have a single point before Saturday is frustrating, but this is a team that’s been in and around the top 10 over the past two seasons. They may have started poorly, but they are far from the league’s whipping boys! We must continue to get better as elements of Saturday’s display weren’t good enough, but results and performances over the past week have definitely lifted some of the doom and gloom.
A solid response to an early lapse – We came out of the traps too slow, allowing them to run at our defence early on and score within 90 seconds, but in the 90 minutes that followed we didn’t concede and got back into the game with a goal of our own. It wasn’t a good performance by any means, but this feels like the sort of game we were losing at the start of the last two seasons. There’s clear room for improvement in all areas, but a point isn’t a disaster when you consider our disastrous start.
Almiron needs a goal – I’m a big fan of Almiron and absolutely love his energy, pace and enthusiasm out on the pitch, but he screams of a player who’s desperate to get that first goal. He failed to covert two very decent chances on Saturday and looked a little bit lost out on the pitch at times, often lacking composure in moments where he needed to just get his head up, make the right decision and compose himself. Once he gets that first goal, I think he’ll be flying – which is more reason why fans should not be getting on his back both at the games or on social media. Most still seem to appreciate what he does, but I noticed some being overly critical after his performance on Saturday, suggesting he’s not up to it and is nothing more than a ‘headless chicken’ – a short sighted take if there ever was one!
A missed chance to take all 3 points? – I don’t want to contradict myself too much here as I do maintain that 4 points from Spurs and Watford is a very good return when you look at it like that, but it did feel like they were there for the taking on Saturday. They looked so poor defensively but we didn’t really exploit that, which is a shame in such a competitive division where wins can be hard to come by – especially when you have the run of tough fixtures we have.
Sean Longstaff will take time to get back to his best – Our expectations have probably gone too high regarding Longstaff after his incredible emergence last season and the £50m links with Man Utd, but he looked a little off the pace and unusually sloppy at times on Saturday. In the first half in particular he was under hitting passes, wanting too much time on the ball and having a few too many loose touches. He recovered fairly well in the second half, but it seems he’s still getting to grips with a return to first team action after several months out via a serous knee injury. He’s a class act and was brilliant at Spurs, but he hasn’t look quite as calm and confident on the ball in our opening two home games.
The atmosphere at St James’ Park – In some respects, seeing a 44,000 crowd at St James’ Park is a good thing, showing that fans have had enough of Mike Ashley and are taking a stand, but the atmosphere on Saturday was noticeably poor once again. It feels like the buzz at St James’ Park has disappeared, with many fans up out of habit and not in hope of seeing great things. It’s Steve Bruce’s job to turn that around, but Mike Ashley deserves everything he gets as far as the poor attendances are concerned. It’s just a shame these players are no longer playing in front of a bouncing St James’ Park.