Newcastle United have made a solid start – but here’s why Toon fans are still moaning – Simon Bird

The X-rated shout of exasperation that boomed out of the TV from a member of Newcastle’s coaching staff summed up their predicament.

“For f**** sake, man, any chance?”

It echoed the pained feelings of those suffering at home. It came before United benefitted from the dodgiest of handball rulings, and Callum Wilson’s 96th-minute penalty.

The pantomime villainous sight of owners Mike Ashley rubbing his hands together and laughing at the points robbery he’d just witnessed, lifted the mood.

And ice-cool Wilson declaring with a cheeky glint in his eye: “It’s absolutely marvellous..!”



Newcastle United’s head coach Steve Bruce gestures on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on September 27, 2020.

Indeed it was marvellous for the players who’d somehow stayed in the game, kept the Spurs score down to one, and done a job of being resilient at a top six side.

It was a bonus point gleaned from one of the worst handball decisions ever seen in the Premier League, so why not have a laugh about it, and be happy.

An unlucky club, an unlucky manager, a bunch of players accepting their fate might never have got themselves into a position to win the handball. Joelinton winning a free kick, Andy Carroll bull-dosing around in the penalty area, forcing Dier to jump and have his arm up.

Commendable spirit.



Eric Dier was adjudged to have handled the ball

So why are Geordies moaning again?

It’s been a steady start. Four points from three games. No early season crisis. No immediate scare, or need to claw away form the bottom three.

But this debate goes to the heart of what Newcastle fans want their club to be.

No one’s complaining about a par for the course draw at White Hart Lane.

But there is an issue emerging about the way Newcastle are scraping through this season – and the later stages of the restart in the summer.



Newcastle signing Callum Wilson has got two goals in three games, but needs more chances

Three games have yielded just three shots on target – one Callum Wilson’s penalty – and three goals. Only 2 “big chances” created.

Without the unpredictability of Allan Saint-Maximin, it’s fairly horrible to watch. Jonjo Shelvey’s drilled switch passes seem to be their best weapon to create space in attack. But in the final third, Newcastle have very little modern day, clever cutting edge.

It was telling that the late introduction of Andy Carroll was their best outlet. He was a disrupter, awkwardly roughing up centre backs and screaming “handball” at every punt into the box.

But that’s not a system of attacking play viable for 90 minutes, as proven when Carroll started against Brighton.



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To the eye, Newcastle looked to stand off Spurs and hardly lay a finger on them. No pressing. Very few tackles. No close quarter combat and hassle to win the ball higher up the pitch.

It was a containment job – Rafa Benitez often tried the same – and it is ugly and boring.

Premier League stats hint that United could struggle this season unless they find a formula to be on the front foot, pass and probe, and look like footballing team, not a defensive drill outfit.

After Monday’s games they’ll be in the bottom six for pass completion, at just over 1,000 this season. Same for shots taken, 27.

They are top of the league for saves – 18 – with Karl Darlow doing his job in North London.

They are fourth for defensive clearances – 67 – showing they are under pressure more than most.

Bruce explained his tactics saying: “My thought process was to stay in the game for as long as we could.”

He’s not stupid, generally wants his sides to play attacking football, and knows that traditionally Newcastle fans demand more than three shots on target in three games.

At least there’s progress in the cup, with the trip to Newport offering another chance to score goals like they did against lowly League Two outfit Morecambe last week.

Next weekend’s clash with troubled Burnley – also purveyors non-possession based football – is a chance for Bruce’s side to evolve.

If not, it will be the Toon fans shouting “for f**** sake” back at the TV.

source.



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