The game was lost in the first half. Some say before that, when the team was announced. Either way it’s one win in eight games which include 6 defeats for United in that time. It’s consistent with the dreadful output of the club in the last 14 months. Everyone’s to blame and no one’s to blame bar Mike Ashley. The clubs is hurtling towards the second tier fast, and deservedly so.
I drove down to Liverpool without much hope. If you’ve listened to my podcasts or read my previews you’ll have heard me bemoaning both United’s away record as well as Steve McClaren’s disastrous away form as a manager at the top level in and with England. The glimmer hope was provided by an Everton team who can’t stop conceding goals and hadn’t won at home since November. In fact Everton’s last league win had come at St James’ on Boxing Day so their form was patchy at best.
Everton needn’t have worried and i wish i hadn’t bothered. Newcastle United put in what i’d call a signature Steve
McClaren performance. The type of performance his side have provided more than any other this season. The ‘limp’ type. The type of performance where from the first four to five minutes of the game, you know what’s coming. No passion, or fight or more importantly quality. How does Steve McClaren set up his sides to play away from home? They don’t sit deep and look to frustrate. They don’t play on the counter attack. They don’t play long balls. They don’t play possession football. They don’t slow down the game looking to frustrate a volatile home crowd who are quick to turn on their own players. They don’t play direct football looking to put the ball in areas of the pitch that give the opposition problems. They don’t start games fast and look to grab a goal early then hang on. They don’t keep it tight for the first half and look to grow into games as home sides grow more frustrated. They don’t….do anything.
What was McClaren’s idea for his team. What was the word in training for 10 days? What was the weakness McClaren looking to exploit? What was the plan? Everton dominated from the first minute. Lukaku looking dangerous (he’ll do that) and Everton played some nice stuff early on without any reward. 20 minutes in and i turned to Ben Wade and said ‘we haven’t had a shot’. 22 minutes in and we’re one down. The goal comes down our right, our ‘strong side’. Everton started the game looking (as they did at our place) to attack our rancid left, obviously excited by Townsend’s lack of defensive ability and Paul Dummet’s lack of defensive ability. It was working, but i presume the penny dropped and Everton realised they could exploit our weaknesses at down both flanks, the middle of the pitch and in behind the back 4. The goal was a farce. Winjaldum (more on him to come) tracking back but not paying attention or marking anyone. Defenders turning their backs on the ball. Rob Elliot standing really far to the right side of his goal. he was Man of the Match by some distance, but the reason he’s not a top keeper is his positioning and his ability to come off his line. That said – he was superb most of the night and stopped a Southampton – mackem type score on his own.
United didn’t manage a single shot on the first half bar a ridiculous effort from Dummet, who was mercifully subbed at half time. The decision to start Perez up front was baffling pre-game. Ayoze Perez gets a lot of praise fro mags. He’s a good player. I’m pleased he’s signed on for five years. Tonight we should have started the other strikers, or a kid from the reserves up front. Perez’s performance was a disgrace in the first half. It’s one thing to be given the chance to play up front by yourself, it’s another to have the self discipline not to just play your normal game and drop deep looking for the ball. No outlet up front. Most of the time he wasn’t there. There was a moment in the first half he gave a way a foul in the left back position. Somehow Lukaku and then Kone managed to avoid playing any of the football, as lone strikers, on the toes of their full backs. Not good enough.
Georginho Winjladum put in one of the worst performances I’ve seen, but then i remember Swansea away (which I also drove to) and he was as bad there. He can have bad games. He’s been great. He’s been mostly anonymous away from home, but his home performances have more than made up for that. Unfortunately that’ll not be enough going into the last 14 games. He hardly touched the ball and when he did, it was with disastrous consequences. Awful. He’s a senior player. His performances away from home have been rank since the start of the season. Not good enough. How he stayed on the pitch i’ve no idea. I thought Saivet did okay and actually did some general stuff on the pitch like make tackles and passes. That he was taken off for Winjladum to stay on and play centre midfield is probably a sign that McClaren is a coward. Or that he doesn’t know what he is doing. Maybe both.
Rolando Aarons came on at left back. The poor kid. rushed back by Pardew to save his own skin, out for 17 months and brought on to face Lennon and Coleman. His performance was a joke defensively. Funny that, him being an attacking midfielder. Would it have been SO BAD to bring on Steven Taylor and play Colo or Lascelles at full back. Surely the results couldn’t have been any worse. The second half continued as the first did, bar a little bitpointless possession for United. Mitrovic played well when coming on and was a vast improvement on the anonymous Perez, who dropped back to a more familiar left wing and no.10 position. He should have equlaised when Sissoko put in a great ball and Mitrovic put it wide. He should have scored, his finishing isn’t good enough. But he absolutely improves the performance of this team when he plays. He’s 21, yet he’s the best we’ve got. It shouldn’t be like this.
Sissoko by the way was abysmal. If ever a player didn’t fancy a freezing cold, wet night in the North West it’s our Moussa. He’s talented. He quite often plays well for United (at home) – but his performance was distinguishable from Perez and Winjaldum in that he did actually get on the ball or go in for challenges – bottling/losing every single one. A waste of a shirt.
Everton just attacked loads. Elliot tipped three attempts onto the frame of the goal. Fair play to him, he’s a great shot stopper – possibly up there with anyone else in the league at the moment. The final blow came when Everton got a deserved second when the laughably hopeless Aarons just gave up trying to play football and hauled down his man. Pen. Goal. Time to get off.
I’ve no idea what happened for the third as i left on 90. I’m pleased Everton got the two late goals, as a one goal margin would have been a scandal and masked some deficiencies that the result (rather than the performance) at Watford did. Everton are hopeless. remember that. The only side they’ve beaten in the league nearly three months is Newcastle United. Everton could have won that game 6 0 and i couldn’t have complained. Shelvey was poor, but at least he tries things. He doesn’t hide. I like him a lot. He misses Colback. Townsend – he’s direct which is what this side needs. Playing him with Paul Dummet won’t work as he just has two defenders to face all the time. But we didn’t bring in a left back. Again.
Before tonight Everton had only kept one clean sheet at home all season to Aston Villa. That’s our level now.
Newcastle United Elliot – 8, Janmaat 6, Mbemba 5 (Lacselles 5), Colo 5, Dummet 3 (Aarons 1), Sissoko 2, Saivet 5 (Motrovic 5) , Shelvey 5, Townsed 4, Winjaldum 0, Perez 1
Their fans 2- silent. Lots of empty seats . Probably deserve some sort of refund due to no opposition turning up.
Our fans 3- poor numbers. yes it’s Wednesday, but i get the feeling Everton would have brought more to us for a non-televised game at £25 a ticket. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. Why would anyone want to watch a McClaren side away from home . More songs about poverty in Liverpool. More from the ‘banter’ songbook.
ALEX HURST – FOLLOW ALEX ON @tfalex1892
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