Let’s be honest, Wednesday night’s game at St James’ Park wasn’t a great watch, with us looking a shadow of the side that put three past Sheffield United last Sunday.
That said, there were still a few positives to take from our second match back since football returned.
Here’s a few observations I picked up on as I watched the game from my sofa, starting with a few positives:
1. Rose’s best display in black and white?
The Spurs loanee put in his best display in a Newcastle shirt on Wednesday for me.
He made on superbly timed tackle to stop a Villa runner breaking into the box in the second half, was solid positionally throughout and could’ve got himself an assist if Almiron sorted his feet out in the box.
A picture of him looking pretty chunky emerged after our 3-2 win over Middlesbrough a few weeks back, but he’s looking leaner now and fitter than he was when he first arrived.
2. Carroll shows he’s still got something to give
The big man’s assist for Dwight Gayle was brilliant, but he offered much more than just that during his 30 minute cameo against the Villains.
He gave us an outlet in the air, held up the ball well and was typically all action.
The real test is whether he can do that for 90 minutes, but it was good to see him looking sharp now he’s signed a new one-year deal at St James’ Park.
3. Saint-Maximin on fire and Joelinton more confident?
You don’t need me to tell you how good Saint-Maximin has been since football returned, but I’d argue he looks fitter, stronger and even better for the break.
We know about his skill and ability to dribble past players at will, but anyone trying to shove him off the ball was bouncing off him, suggesting he’s been hitting the weights during lockdown!
It’s also worth noting that he wasn’t dispossessed ONCE all game, suggesting his decision making is improving, while he continues to show how much more influential he can be in a free role – instead of being stuck on our left and easier to mark as a result.
As for Joelinton, he didn’t always get into the good areas he found himself in last Sunday, but his brilliant step over and burst of pace past Tyrone Mings gave us a glimpse of what he’s capable. It would’ve been a top class goal if it wasn’t for the centre-back’s miraculous last ditch bit of defending to recover.
The big Brazilian also powered past a few in claret and blue with an impressive driving run down the left in the second half – another sign of what he’s capable of doing with a big of confidence?
Now for the not so good…
1. Bruce made to pay for no rotation and late subs?
Prior to kick off, I was secretly hoping Bruce made a few changes. Not just to give more well rested players a rare chance to impress, but to also allow a few of our key players a break ahead of Sunday’s huge FA Cup clash with City – a match that will require a HUGE effort if we’re to make it through to the semi finals.
I can see why Bruce chose to stay unchanged given how good they were vs Sheffield Utd, but there’s no denying the fact we looked leggy and flat in this one in comparison.
Not only did we suffer late on, with Hayden and Ritchie picking up injuries that could rule them out of the City game and Villa ending the game the much stronger side, I felt Bruce waited too long to make a few of his changes. An example being, when Saint-Maximin was out on his feet and Shelvey moving like he was running through treacle, why wait until the 86th minute to bring on Lazaro and Bentaleb?
2. Almiron anonymous
The Paraguayan’s pace and energy is always an asset to this team, but he disappeared for large parts of this one – and showed a lack of composure in a few key moments.
Went missing at times and struggled to get on the ball, also wasting our biggest chance of the second half too, failing to hit it first time after a smart cut-back from Danny Rose.
Hopefully he can find the finish if one arrives on Sunday, as we can’t afford to spurn the sort of opportunities he’s fluffed in our last two against Man City!
3. A rare error from our top performer and Gayle frustrated?
Dubravka has been our player of the season for me and has saved Bruce’s bacon on several occasions this season, however he’ll know he should’ve done MUCH better for their late equaliser.
He’s won us many more points than he’s cost us this season, but hopefully he’ll be back to his best on Sunday. After all, we make need him to play a blinder if we’re to stop this devastating Man City attack.
Last but not least, Dwight Gayle – a man who looked noticeable angry, despite scoring…
This isn’t really a negative as this came after he found the net! But I noticed he looked like a frustrated man moments after he stuck the ball in the back of the net, as if to say “that’s what I can do if you play me.”
A subtle message to Steve Bruce perhaps? Although he needs to stay fit and start doing that more often if he wants to earn a start. This was the same player who missed a hat-trick of HUGE chances in that 0-1 win at Southampton before the break…