It was certainly an afternoon to forget for us as we completed an uninspiring pre-season with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Stoke City.
Not to read too much into a pre-season friendly, but there were certainly some worrying signs and re-occurring patterns of last season on show at St James’ Park on Saturday afternoon.
It was certainly an injury-stricken line up. Karl Darlow came in for the sidelined Martin Dubravka and Isaac Hayden was forced to start at centre-back, with Lascelles suspended and Dummett, Lejeune, Clark and Schar all absent.
Andy Carroll once again started up top, with Brazilian Joelinton only deemed fit enough for the bench after linking up with the senior squad for the first time in pre-season on Thursday.
Notably, Matt Ritchie was not involved – which may have something to do with his proposed return to Bournemouth – while Jonjo Shelvey’s absence from the entire matchday was a concern just one week away from the new season
NUFC XI (4-2-3-1): Darlow – Yedlin Fernandez, Hayden, Manquillo – Barlaser, Sean Longstaff – Murphy, Almiron, Saint-Maximin – Carroll.
Players subbed on: Atsu, Saivet, Joelinton, Muto (Gillespie did not feature).
Players absent: Dubravka, Gayle, Ritchie, Shelvey, Schar, Clark, Dummett, Lejeune, Hendrick, Krafth, Lascelles (suspended), M Longstaff.
The game itself started without much to write home about until Stoke grasped the initiative, with Sam Clucas heading home from a cross to give the visitors the lead.
Manquillo didn’t do enough to close down the cross and, not for the first time in his NUFC career, DeAndre Yedlin was ball watching at the back post and allowed Clucas to head home.
For the remainder of the match, it appeared to be all us based on the highlights arriving from the club’s official feed. There seemed to be missed chance after missed chance and flashbacks of last season’s desperation for goals meant we were unable to equalise.
Carroll dragged a shot wide before half time after some good work from Almiron, Fernandez headed over a dangerous Barlaser corner, Saint-Maximin had a stinging effort palmed wide and Murphy was denied by Butland on either side of half time.
Butland had a good game but their goal was a poor one to concede and they arguably had the biggest chance of the second half too, with Gregory hitting the post front six-yards out on 55 minutes.
Saint-Maximin did go on a brilliant run soon after and picked out Sean Longstaff with a clever cutback, but he too fired over in a game full of poor finishing for those in our new yellow away kit!
There were definitely some positives to take from the game, however, with this stunning pass from Dan Barlaser being perhaps the moment of the match and something we’d all be talking about had Murphy applied the finish.
There’s been talk of another loan move away from the club for Barlaser, but this eye of the needle ball to set up Murphy in the 62nd minute proves why I think he deserves to stay at the club this season:
As for Murphy, Bruce stated after the game that he too caught the eye – nearly getting himself on the scoresheet on two occasions – however he should have done better (see above) after being put clean through by Barlaser.
Alarm bells certainly rang this afternoon though, and our performance in front of goal cannot be ignored, with us losing back-to-back games to average Championship sides by an aggregate scoreline of 6-1 in our final two friendlies.
But, it’s certainly not doomsday – yet. If we can secure the signings of Fraser and Wilson over the line, Lewis in at left-back and get our centre-backs fit again, you’d imagine that our output at both ends of the pitch could be completely transformed.
Moreover, we were missing several first-team players, and arguably the spine of our team in Dubravka, Lascelles, Shelvey and Gayle.
Let’s hope there’s some more positive news in the next few days, and deals can be agreed for Lewis, Wilson and Fraser