Fifty two thousand people faithfully arrived at St James’ Park on Saturday to create a carnival atmosphere to greet the players as Newcastle began their home campaign. The opening day defeat at Fulham was disappointing but fans expected a much more profitable afternoon as Newcastle looked to take full advantage of unparalleled home support. What this incredible support was delivered though was shockingly woeful. Defeat to Huddersfield has left the Magpies pointless after two games and looking alarmingly short of quality.
The wave of optimism generated by Rafa Benitez’s decision to commit his future and some decent transfer activity now seems to have dissolved as cheers turned to jeers at the final whistle. The result is a devastating blow to Rafa and his men as they gift away, what could turn out to be, vital Championship points. Fulham and Huddersfield are not good sides, they will not be fighting for promotion at the end of the season. These are dropped points.
However, let’s not panic just yet. The loss is a bad one yes but Newcastle still have a long, long way to go. The season and the evolution of the team is still in its infancy. Benitez made good changes for the match, Perez and Colback rightfully dropped after struggling against Fulham. The presence of Mo Diame in the starting line-up and the omission of want-way Moussa Sissoko would have also pleased most fans. Chancel Mbemba was back in the back four and at kick-off everything seemed to point to a good day for Newcastle as fans cheered on their team. Of course Huddersfield had other plans.
It does look as though a trip to Newcastle is seen as a bit of a day out for the opposition. They can arrive with no pressure whatsoever and play at a magnificent stadium in front of a crowd the size of which many of the players will have never played in front of before. St James’ Park – at the moment – is not a fortress, an insurmountable castle, it’s blinking Alton Towers. Teams need to fear it, dread coming there and have nightmares about losing there. For that to happen we need to stick with Rafa and the team, as difficult as that may be after seeing such dross but it must be done.
Newcastle need to do their bit too though and desperately need to get into a winning mentality. They really cannot afford too many more days like Saturday. Even if performances are still not quite right, somehow Newcastle need to start picking up some points before they leave themselves with too much to do. There is still plenty of time to resolve some key issues, but as they try to bring more quality into the club, they must start winning games.
Jamaal Lascelles needs the fans’ support. He has the weight of captaincy on his young shoulders and it appears to be affecting him. Just as it seemed to disintegrate Jonjo Shelvey’s performances last season, Lascelles’ shoulders look heavy and he needs time to grow into a difficult role. Gayle too must cope with that number 9 on his back. Saturday was Alan Shearer’s birthday and Gayle did well to get on the scoresheet. He may have initially missed the penalty but the eagerness he shows to take penalties and free-kicks illustrates his desire to get on the scoresheet and get shots on goal. He too will grow into that formidable shirt.
It’s about as bad a start as anyone could have imagined but the only way, as they say, is up.