In Sport, and as ever with NUFC, when there is great expectation it usually turns out to kick you in the nads. As was the case last night when United never really got going at all against a pretty unremarkable Fulham side. To be honest it’s difficult to make much out of this game and what the season has in store though there are a couple of points worth going back to.
Last time I wore a pair of shorts to a match, at Blackpool, I froze to death in Bloomfield Park once the Irish Sea clouds turned on the town. Wasn’t the case last night as it was a cracking evening for a few ales. Putney Bridge’s alehouses were absolutely heaving with Mags, all in good cheer, all up for the match. It was a good opportunity to meet up with old pals in The Kings Arms while waiting an age to get served in The Temperance who had about 4 people serving in the biggest Island bar this side of the Thames. The double round bought had to be drunk in record time which has absolutely no bearing on the quality of this report.
After reaching Craven Cottage just before kick-off, which remains a grand old ground with proper football architecture,United took the field in that ace Boca Juniors kit with Gayle and Perez up front but with Aarons and Shelvey on the bench, perhaps surprisingly.
After 10 mins , there was a the first of three penalty shouts for United as Perez was brought down but being very marginally outside the box, the awarded free kick was driven straight at the wall. There was very little quality on show in the first half and I thought Hayden, Anita and Colback really struggled to get a grip on the game.
After 35 mins, the first, seemingly clear cut penalty claim was missed by referee Simon Hooper when Ritchie’s cross was handled by Tunnicliffe. It looked nailed on but Hooper didn’t want to know and would replicate this in the second half. Aluko, who looked Fulham’s most dangerous player, tested Sels with a shot before the decisive period of the game.
Almost on the blow of half time, the set piece was poorly defended at the far post and Matt Smith headed in. Poor goal to concede and made a bit of a mockery of my initial thought that the defence looked properly organised. Bit like saying Abe Lincoln liked the show, bar the shooting.
Getting a beer at HT, usually a straight forward task here with plenty of temporary bars, turned into a bit of a farce as the pumps produced more Mr Whippy than carbonated laughing juice. Never mind, second half started more promisingly for us as Ritchie had a shot saved at point blank range after some excellent work down the left. Then a good cross from Ritchie, who I thought was our best player on the night, produced a wide, diving header from Perez.
What Rafa Benitez does well, and what good managers do is recognise when the side needs changing and Aarons came on
for the poor Colback to give United much better balance. Shelvey later came on which begs the question, do you really rate him below any of Colback, Anita or Hayden? I think Shelvey could easily shine at this level and really should. The Diame signing may complicate Shelveys position further though. United started to turn up the pressure with another decent cross from Janmaat but Aarons couldn’t connect properly.
Armstrong also came on after 70 mins for Perez. As much as I have my grave doubts about Mitrovic, Mark Brophy in The Special rightly pointed out that our attack has a sameness without a big, lead the line forward. I think back to Carroll in 09/10. I think that’s the only serious missing piece in this team.
United had another excellent shout for a penalty as what looked a stonewall handball was turned down once again after Ritchie’s shot hit Kalas. Before this Armstrong had a cracking shot from distance but well wide.
I’m not going to read too much into this game as you can either look at the two disallowed and obvious penalties and the domination of the second half or precious few decent chances created and a laboured performance. It’s too early for that but what I would say that if this result is a kick up the arse for players who think they can waltz this league or anyone who thinks we’ll carry the season at a canter, then last night may not be altogether a bad thing.
As we have the man to do it in charge though I can’t say I’m despondent in any way but this is a warning nonetheless which Rafa clearly alluded to after the game. The players need to have taken note. What was the best aspect about last night was the unity in the stands and the wholehearted support for the manager and team. The team was applauded by each and every man and woman who supports Newcastle United. Irrespective of the result it’s good to be back.
Newcastle United: Sals 5; Janmaat 7, Hanley 6, Lascalles 6, Dummett 5; RITCHIE 7, Colback 4 (Aarons 6), Hayden 4 (Shelvey 5), Anita 4; Perez 6 (Armstrong 5), Gayle 5.
Subs not used: Mbemba, Darlow, Sterry, Gamez.
Ref: Hooper 4. Two clear penalties turned down. Piss poor.
Mags: 9. Constant support, especially the First half, Great send off to the team at the final Whistle. You can’t always say this of us at Craven Cottage.
Fulham: 5. Barely heard them but a nice club, if that sounds worse than it’s meant. They aren’t knob heads like Chelsea down the road. Best away trip in London.
GUY HANNAY-WILSON – Follow Guy on @tfGHW1892
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