We may have seen a much improved attacking display on Saturday gone, but costly errors at the back continued to haunt us.
Not only did the 3-3 draw with Brentford see us slip bottom of the league, the three goals conceded mean we now have the joint worst defence in the Premier League.
Letting in 27 goals in 12 games is unacceptable and a recipe for relegation. After all, we’re not going to win many games of football when our defence concedes, on average, more than twice per game.
Changes must be made, which brings me nicely to Martin Dubravka and Federico Fernandez.
After failing to feature all season, the Slovakian is ready to start after overcoming a long-term injury, while the Argentine centre-back has been bizarrely left out of the squad – despite being fit – in the gap between Bruce leaving and Howe arriving.
Both, for me, should start when available, being two reliable and experienced internationals who can help bring a sense of calm and touch of class to a currently chaotic NUFC defence.
Even if Darlow hadn’t made that error against Brentford, I’d be wanting Dubravka to come back in now he’s ready. Where Darlow hesitates or hides, Dubravka comes off his line, communicates and takes control – something that can only give confidence to the players in front of him.
Fernandez may be on the decline, however his rate of deuteriation is slow compared to Ciaran Clark’s if recent months are anything to go by.
The Irish international has been bullied to easily and often seems slow to react or edgy in possession. While Fernandez may not be the long-term answer to our defensive issues, I’d back him to do a better job right now.
Howe’s influence in attacking areas was immediately clear last weekend. The test now is to sharpen up defensively and build strong foundations at the end of the field we look most vulnerable.
Bring in Dubravka and Fernandez may not guarantee clean sheets and rock solid displays, however I’d like to bet that we’d have won on Saturday had both started.
Hopefully both are in Howe’s starting XI when the teams are announced at The Emirates in a few days time!