Saturday’s match marked the start of a new era at Newcastle United, even if the Graeme Jones era is going to be a short-lived one.
I had semi-high hopes after almost two years of watching our entire team sit back for the majority of matches and sit even deeper once we’d scored a goal.
Let’s be honest, it wasn’t ground-breaking. It wasn’t thrilling. It wasn’t even really a performance that deserved three points. But for me, there was a lot of progress.
I went in at half-time feeling like we’d definitely end up losing if we continued the way we played in the first half. But happily, we didn’t. we came out stronger, more determined, and more attack-minded.
We made actual attacking substitutions in the second half. I can probably count on one hand the number of times we’ve done that in the past two years. Now, for me, Ryan Fraser isn’t a starter, and he was invisible for a lot of the game. But can you say the previous manager would have subbed Miggy and Willock on, especially before the 70-minute mark? Unlikely.
We’re currently top of the table – no, not the Premier League. The table of teams who’ve dropped the most points from winning positions this season. We got absolutely battered in the end off West Ham despite battering them in the first half. We conceded a sloppy goal at Watford, and two at Wolves that were so bad, we might as well have had no defenders on the pitch.
This, for me, was the biggest area of progress on Saturday. Instead of attacking in the first half and inviting pressure until we inevitably lost the game in the second, we did the opposite.
Now we’re not daft. We don’t really want to make our lives difficult in the first half and have to come back from a deficit every week. But give me this over losing a winning position every day.
Was the result fair? Probably not. Realistically, Palace deserved the win. But we could have nicked three points near the end, and that’s what I want to see more of. I was on the edge of my seat for the last 10-15 minutes of the game because we had some brilliant attacks. Prior to Saturday, I’d be on the edge of my chair, biting my nails as the opposition mounted multiple attacks and waiting for us to inevitably concede.
There are definitely some things we still need to build on. Both of Benteke’s goals were near-identical, so having the second struck off was an intense relief. But when it comes to bolstering our defence, it’s a case of Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes much longer to build a solid defensive line than it does to tear it down – look how quickly they regressed after Rafa left.
We still sat far too deep, and we didn’t need to on Saturday. Although Fraser doesn’t seem to have the fitness levels to start a game, he, Wilson and ASM have the pace that allows us to play in an attacking formation, which we didn’t. I didn’t expect miracles from Jones, but I also didn’t expect us to play so deep considering how much he changed our style when he first came in.
I thought Wilson looked lively, but it was highly frustrating seeing him playing the ball on the wing when realistically, we needed players on the wing to be hitting it to him in the box. I commend him and Miggy for pulling their weight in other areas of the pitch – Miggy was good defensively again when he came on – but it’s wildly frustrating that they have to do it so often.
Callum Wilson is in fantastic form, and it’s especially impressive when he’s feeding off scraps, creating his own attacks and getting stranded upfront. Imagine how much more he could do if the players around him fed into him instead of leaving him to do their jobs as well as his own?
We also need more going through the middle. Longstaff has been hit and miss this season. Mostly a hit at Watford, but a miss on Saturday. Hayden is still always one of the first names on the teamsheet for me, but he needs a forward-thinker alongside him.
Willock hasn’t been great this season – now we now he’s been battling an injury, so I hope once he gets through that, we’ll see the player who kept us up last season.
I don’t know how I feel about Chelsea at home on Saturday. We have areas we need to work on, but there are improvements I can see.
We pretty much always sneak a win against Chelsea at home, and there’s a little hopeful part of me that thinks we might just do it again. But the last thing we should be doing is sitting deep and inviting pressure. That, for me, is what’ll lead to a result like Chelsea against Norwich on Saturday.