“We will be very, very strong”, Steve Bruce said in his pre-Burnley interview.
“There’s nothing better than a cup run – especially when you get to the latter stages so let’s hope we can go a couple of steps further than we have done in the last couple of years”.
Empty words, once again. But we all knew that, didn’t we?
The line-up was announced at 7pm and was, unsurprisingly, nowhere near “very strong”. The only player truly capable of scoring regular goals, Callum Wilson, wasn’t even on the bench.
You could argue that’s a sensible decision in a season where we need him fit in the league as one of only two recognised strikers in the squad. But you could easily counter that with the promise of a decent cup run, which is miles more exciting than 38 games of trying to stay afloat while on the back foot.
There’s nothing more heart-sinking than seeing that a fit Callum Wilson isn’t even in the matchday squad. Oh, except for Hendrick starting, too. This “strong” side featured no Willock, Almiron, or Saint-Maximin. He once again lumped Joelinton upfront. An unnecessary five-at-the-back formation that saw our weakest defender, Lewis, play. Why not add some spice to a bland midfield with Willock, who’s only played one game, and go four at the back?
In fairness, I feel for Lewis. He showed a lot of promise at Norwich and he’s at the point in his career where that promise needs to be nurtured. He needs a good coach to help him hone his skills and shore up his weaknesses. Sadly, he won’t progress under Steve Bruce.
In fact, a lot of players have regressed under him, and I can’t really blame them. Almiron got a lot of stick last night – yes, he was poor when he came on, and he missed a penalty that he never should have taken. But how can he excel when he’s tested in five different positions per season and told to camp in his own half for at least half a match?
I’m not even really sure what to say about the match except it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Newcastle – Burnley draw in the second round of the league cup. Dull. Unexciting. Goalless and ultimately disappointing.
The most exciting moment in the match? Manquillo putting in a stunning Isaac Hayden-esque tackle in front of my Milburn stand seat in the first half. Longstaff put a few solid sliders in too. What can you say about a match when its most exciting moments were…slide tackles. One bright spark was Longstaff, who I thought was commanding in the middle of the park.
You could say the second-half substitutions, which essentially brought our three strongest available players on, showed intent. But given that Hendrick and Joelinton stayed on the pitch, you still couldn’t call this changed side “very, very strong”.
We know that teams like Burnley can be difficult to break down. They’re essentially 2010-2013 Stoke City. They’re absolutely massive. They’re physical. They’re dirty (anyone see the Chiellini/Saka-style pull on Willock?). The three substitutes are the type of players that can break these man mountains down, just by running rings around them. But there was still one missing ingredient.
There’s no denying that Hennessey, who’s surely pushing about 40 by now, was immense. But we had 18 shots to Burnley’s six, but only a sixth were on target. The game could have very easily been killed off by Callum Wilson. I think if he’d started – or even came on early in the second half – we’d have comfortably won 1-0. It wouldn’t have been much prettier, but it would have been comfortable, and we’d have left the stadium happy.
Not even having him on the bench for the eventuality of penalties was, to be frank, monumentally stupid. But it’s what we’ve come to expect from a manager who, less than a week ago, blamed a loss on the fact that it was raining and we’d trained on dry grass. Yes, really.
But let’s not forget that this is a man who’s happily thrown his own players under the bus to cover his own back, who said we were in “histrionics” because we weren’t happy with a 20-game winless streak, who said he’s not really into tactics, who said after EIGHTEEN MONTHS that we were suddenly going to do it his way.
“We are capable…of winning a cup.”
This certainly isn’t true under Steve Bruce, and to be honest, I’m not even sure we’ll be capable of staying up.
Saturday’s match against Southampton will be the first home game I’m missing since September 2009, and when I worked that out, I was devastated. It feels wrong not being there.
After another pathetic cup performance this week and more Brucey nonsense, I’m not so sad.