A toothless display from our fringe players today, with Ritchie’s late goal saving Benitez’s blushes – forcing an unwanted replay against the Rovers.
Here’s an assessment of each player’s performance and my marks out of 10:
NUFC XI – (4-2-3-1): Woodman (4), Sterry (5), Schar (5), Lejeune (7) Manquillo (6), Longstaff (6), Hayden (4), Murphy (2) , Kenedy (4), Ritchie (6), Joselu (3).
Woodman – 4 – To say he didn’t fill me with confidence was an understatement. They targeted him, but he got nowhere near a number of crosses and was unconvincing with several of the punches he got to. The odd good claim but looked very vulnerable. May need to bulk up a little as he looks a little too weak for a goalkeeper. A harsh rating for a youngster, but he has a lot to learn based on today’s shaky display.
Sterry – 5 – Had mixed success up against the pacey Armstrong, but made a costly error for their goal, with him failing to track the run of Bradley Dack from a cross. Didn’t exactly have much help from Murphy and struggled to get anything going with him at the other end.
Schar – 5 – Made some decent blocks and interceptions early on, but you could see him grow more and more frustrated as the game went on. His cross field passes out the back were very mixed, he gave away a few needless free-kicks and was even bullied off the ball by diminutive number 10 Dack at one stage. A mixed bag but not convincing.
Lejeune – 7 – Easily our best player today for me, which was the one big positive on his competitive return from a cruciate knee ligament injury. Looked calm and comfortable on the ball, read the play well and made several perfectly timed sliding challenges. Went close from a free-kick and saw a goal-bound shot blocked well late on. The best of a very bad bunch today.
Manquillo – 6 – Defended quite well, especially in the first half, however he clearly struggled to get forward when played at left-back – always choosing to cut in on his right and failing to really get the ball out of his feet. A steady performance.
Hayden – 4 – Tried to press Blackburn early on and carry the ball forward but showed his limitations once again. He gets stuck in, but when your second touch is a tackle then it’s the least you’d expect. It’s a real worry that he will have to play if one or Shelvey or Diame gets injured – especially when he clearly wants to leave the club.
Longstaff – 6 – Looks pretty confident and capable on the ball, spraying a few nice passes out wide, but he struggled to get into the game as much as we’d have liked. Blackburn’s two banks of four made it difficult for him, with him often having to drop back just in front of our two centre-backs to pick up the ball. Showed the odd bit of quality and was positive on the ball, but didn’t find the space to make the sort of impact we were hoping for.
Murphy – 2 – It was a big chance for him to impress Benitez, but he had an absolute shocker in fairness. He looked absolutely shot of confidence, failing to ever take on his man, having every cross (bar one) hit the first man and often losing the ball whenever he tried to have a go. He looked frustrated to come off, but he was offering absolutely nothing unfortunately.
Kenedy – 4 – He had the odd promising burst forward early on, but he faded out of the game and got caught trying to do too much at times. He has talent, but his lack of vision and spacial awareness so often costs him – and his visible low levels of confidence aren’t helping.
Ritchie – 6 – Looked more comfortable down the left yet again. Put in a great cross for Joselu and had a stinging shot well blocked in the first half, with him being one of few trying to really drive us forward. He didn’t do much, but the odd moment of quality tended to come from him – with him putting our late penalty away emphatically to make it 1-1.
Joselu – 3 – Aside from one nice pass he pinged out to Murphy early on I genuinely can’t think of one good thing he did. He works hard, but he barely won a header, missed our two biggest chance of the game (one was blocked but he should’ve done better) and his hold up play and link up was poor. It’s a real worry that he’s our next striker in line if Rondon gets injured.
Shelvey – 6 – Came on in the quarter-back role and launched long balls forward. A few were wayward but he played one brilliant one to set Joselu in behind. He was mixed, but he did give us moments of quality and almost scored with his head from a corner.
Atsu – 5 – Didn’t make too much of an impact. Looked brighter than Murphy, but that’s not saying much.
Perez – 6 – On for the last 15 minutes and was quite elusive at times, playing a big part in our goal after being tripped for the penalty.