It was another win, another clean sheet and another goal from a new boy on his debut last night, but it was a pretty dire watch.
I’d rather win and go through than play well and go out as Blackburn Rovers did, yet it was perhaps a reminder that elements of this Newcastle United squad aren’t up to it or need to seriously improve to get into Steve Bruce’s side on a more regular basis.
Here’s my ‘3 good, 3 bad’ from last night’s win, starting with the positives:
1. Mr.Reliable at it again
He hadn’t kicked a ball in competitive action since limping off at Arsenal in February, but he was brilliant throughout on his return.
In a four-man defence that included THREE right-backs, the Irish international barely put a foot wrong, getting himself in the right place at the right time on countless occasions and making several key blocks, interceptions or clearances just when Blackburn were breaking into our box.
We may have let Lejeune go out on loan, missed out on Holding (loan) and have seen Schar struggle when we returned to a back four, but a typically commanding performance from Clark gives us another very capable option should one of Lascelles or Fernandez get injured.
2. Gillespie rock solid in all areas
As debuts go for goalkeepers, that was a very good one.
The local lad made a few key saves, claimed several crosses calmly, showed good handling, was quick off his line the one time he needed to be and his distribution was also very handy, with him releasing a few balls quickly to set us away on the break.
An assured start to life at St James’ Park for our free agent!
3. Another debut goal and Almiron at it again
For all the concerns last night, Fraser’s debut goal means all three of our new signings attack have already scored, while new boys Lewis and Gillespie have also bagged clean sheets at the first time of asking!
Although we had little of the ball and struggled to get things going, Fraser’s movement was impressive, with him looking energetic down the left and linking up well with Almiron in flashes. It was also noticeable how vocal he was, suggesting he has no fear barking out instructions to his teammates.
The run for his goal was brilliant, but the pass from our little Paraguayan was the moment of the match for me. Another sign he’s adding that sprinkle of quality to all that energy and pace and an assist that makes it 2 in 2 for him already this season.
Now for the negatives…
1. What’s happened to Sean Longstaff?
He’s still a young man and perhaps too much pressure was placed on his shoulders after he broke onto the scene so well under Rafa Benitez, but he looked unrecognisable to the elegant player we saw burst onto the scene 18 months ago.
This isn’t the first time he’s struggled in centre-midfield either, with him not only failing to look after the ball well enough but also looking as though he’s treading water as he goes to close down the opposition or track back after he’s been bypassed.
He was second to almost every ball and sloppy when he got it. He looked reenergised as an attacking midfielder last season in wins at Oxford and Bournemouth, so perhaps it’s time Bruce reinvented him there – because he’s looking way off the pace in that deep-lying role.
2. Joelinton lethargic, lacklustre and lost
He hasn’t had a pre-season after linking up with the squad just days before the big kick off, but Ryan Fraser is in a similar boat and hasn’t played competitively since March – yet he looked more energetic and more likely to do damage.
The Brazilian was often left isolated up top and again played in a position that does not suit him, but there comes a point where your £40m just HAS to do the basics better.
He cut a frustrated figure, had several wayward passes or sloppy touches, looked a little slow and sluggish and his decision making was poor too, with him choosing to shoot late on when a simple ball through to Jacob Murphy was the obvious pass.
I want the guy to do well, but he needs to look far more lively and stop feeling sorry for himself now as it was new season, same old Joelinton last night, sadly.
3. A lucky escape for awful NUFC
We’ve got to factor in the 10 changes and that so many who played last night haven’t played together or had a pretty non-existent pre-season, but we were pretty awful.
Outplayed by a Championship side who were missing a few of their best players and struggling to string more than three passes together for most of it.
Hopefully it serves as a warning to Steve Bruce that this squad still needs to be strengthened before the window shuts on October 5th, because we’re an injury to Wilson, Saint-Maximin or Almiron away from looking extremely ordinary.