By David Rees
Following this weekend’s game several feelings have hit me. One is that my almost blinding optimism is daft, and another is that having realism thrust at me is fairly galling. By that I mean the same feelings I’ve held for a while of lack of squad depth and a natural lull following such an excellent season last season are things we all should have expected and should have been aware of. As a consequence an average league campaign is a reasonable price to pay for trips to sunny foreign climbs. Our successes there should be celebrated rather than blamed for our misgivings at home.
Despite those things I was fairly confident that eventually things would click and improve for Newcastle. I am still waiting. Second of all after being so optimistic, to have those feelings of optimism taken away from you by such a poor performance is fairly heart-breaking. As positive as I want to be there are some things you simply can’t ignore.
Yesterday we left plenty of holes for Southampton to exploit which they seemed to do gleefully. I felt our biggest errors can be attributed to our midfield. In fact the area between them and the defence was cavernous at times. Tiote looked listless and wasn’t aided by Anita whatsoever. I couldn’t decide if Anita had been told to push on when we had the ball or not, but either way he looked in no hurry to get back and help out when an attack broke down. Our full backs looked to get forward as often as they could but found themselves isolated when they did. When they did put the ball in the box it was either disappointing or not being attacked.
Cisse and Ba had little quality service to feed on as the long balls and hopeful punts into the corners were hardly the balls that strikers crave. At the back Steven Taylor played well enough without being spectacular whilst Williamson (who I have been very critical of recently) didn’t do too much wrong either, especially in the air. The reshuffle of personnel after the break seemed to add some impetus, but following a chance for Anita the game was over. Poor defending, coupled with poor goalkeeping isn’t a great combination and the end product gave Southampton the three points.
On the train journey home, two further things struck me. Firstly, we looked desperately unorganised. Going forward we looked like we didn’t have a plan, and without the ball the gaps between the defence and midfield was huge. It made it easy for Southampton to exploit, especially on the break. This made me think, what was Pardews plan? Were we trying to play long ball as we missed Cabaye and Ben Arfa, whilst hoping Ba and Cisse could hold up the ball to feed the attacking midfielders of Ferguson, Jonas, then later Marveaux and Sammy Ameobi? If it was it didn’t work as the quality of those balls to our Demba’s was poor. Furthermore if that was our plan, and it failed, what was our plan B? It certainly didn’t look like we had one.
Secondly we looked tired, and crucially disinterested. There didn’t seem to be the desire and drive we had last season and this concerns me massively. That team spirit was something I admired last season as did others. Now it’s lacking, and the obvious rewards it delivered last season is glaringly absent.
What I’m getting at here is that the luck, team spirit and form that we exploited to its maximum last season seems to be working in reverse to even itself out. Pardew (who does not deserve to lose his job as some have suggested) seems unable to reverse that slide through a lack of any alternatives to what he had last year as things worked so well for him then. The excess of games, bad luck with injuries and suspensions have conspired against him to leave us with few options available.
I do however think it’s important to remember we’re in this situation partly as a consequence of our success last season and that shouldn’t be forgotten. European trips and the subsequent domestic troubles were inevitable with a squad of our size. In fact had these injuries struck last year we wouldn’t have enjoyed last season so much. It’s important on these dark, rainy and disappointing days we remember that.
Is an average league campaign a fair price to pay for a shot at the Europa League? Is this season’s lack of luck cancelling out last seasons? Let us know your thoughts?
Author bio - David is a 28-year-old music teacher from Cardiff, despite his location he regularly travels to home and away games. He says his “favourite memories of supporting Newcastle are (oddly…) the 4-1 defeat in the FA Cup in Cardiff, as the fans were incredible and it made me fully understand what being a Newcastle fan was all about.”