First things first, this is not a pop at Rafa’s approach to Saturday’s game. In general, I have no complaints. It was a game we started well in and we could and should have been a few goals up at half-time. The second half had me a little frustrated, mind.
Matt Ritchie was chasing shadows, struggling to get out of his own half, and failing to put in any decent deliveries when handed the opportunity down the right. Atsu too looked out on his feet at times, despite his lively first half.
The game needed some spark and a player who could make something happen for us. With Jacob Murphy on the bench (and almost undeservedly so given his recent form compared to Ritchie’s), I felt we had that exact player waiting in the wings. But, to my disappointment, he was never brought on by Benitez despite us having only used two of our three available substitutions.
As he’s shown recently in the away win at Stoke (superb assist and bright attacking display) and his man of the match performance against Luton, he isn’t afraid to run at players and have a go.
In a second half where we looked slow, sluggish and lacking ideas, I really was surprised he didn’t come on to push for the winner following Joselu’s equaliser. We should have had our tails up when that goal went in, but our momentum was quickly lost due to a lack of energy and ideas on the pitch.
The basis of our problems this season is generally down to the lack of quality at Benitez’s disposal (we’d have beaten Swansea comfortably had he been given that), however I would like to see Rafa make changes a little earlier (especially in home games where things just aren’t working) and sometimes reward players (like Murphy) with a run in the team following a few positive performances.
I’m very much in favour that he knows best, but from the stands at St James’ Park, sometimes we can tell when the game needs a certain player or things need to change.
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