There’s a lot to tackle here. If your head has already fallen off probably stop reading now.
I travelled down to Oxford today in high hopes of progression in the FA Cup. The sides selected in the games against Birmingham (both of which I attended) and Rafa’s pre match comments left no doubt in my mind about the type of side that would be selected. We need to get promoted, and with two massive home games this week before a string of difficult away games, we all knew what the priority was and is. Didn’t stop me from travelling.
A 7am drive down was straightforward enough and 1,800 Mags descended on a sold out Kassam Stadium, which is miles outside of town. The starting line up came through and (bizarrely) raised some eyebrows. Three youngsters in again although Curtis Good game in for Findlay. We lined up 5 – 4 – 1with Haidara once again playing at CB. Gamez came back in from injury to play on the right and Mitrovic returned to lead the line ahead of Murphy or Goufrann. Isaac Hayden could be described as the only starter in a full strength team (with maybe Perez) so we were as weak as could be.
The first half started slowly with neither side getting hold of the game. United played some reasonable stuff and threatened to break on a few occasions. Oxford offered very little going forward and I can only remember one half chance for them from a poorly defended corner (more of those later) as United grew into the game and controlled the half. El-Mhanni curled a good effort which was parried by the keeper and in reality Oxford, whilst defending OK, weren’t offering anything going forward.
I have an issue with our centre forward today. It’s not that he stood on the ball when ideally played in by Hayden with just the goal in front of them. It’s not that he missed two further one on chances that half that simply had to be taken, or indeed that he missed a well won, but poorly taken penalty in the second half. I can live with him being not good enough (if that’s your take on his ability). What I’m tired, no, bored of is the pathetic and unnecessary arguments and spats with the opposition. Mitrovic commuted a foul on his opponent, pulled himself up (moving quicker than he did all afternoon) to push himself into his opponent. The game stopped for minutes. Players pushed, Grant Hanley had to speak to the ref – the whole spectacle stopped for our centre forward who once again given the referee a decision to make. He’s 22 you know. Didn’t see any of the teenagers playing today risking a booking or worse by being a coward. I’m sick of it. It’s boring. It got Oxford’s crowd going. Their centre backs targeted him. I just want him to score goals, not miss sitters. He’s split the support down the middle. I think he has ability. He’s been here 18 months and gotten worse. He’s still a liability. Truth is it’s easier to be a liability when you don’t miss all of the chances. In the second half bar the penalty win, he hardly broke into a sweat.
Rafa Benitez has played a weakened team today but his biggest mistake was selecting Mitrovic ahead of Goufrann. That’s my opinion based on watching him miss all the best chances and once again giving the referee a decision to make. We created enough chances in the first half to win the game and didn’t.
The second half stated badly and got worse from there. A badly defended short corner saw them all bundled home at the back post. One nil and I worried it was going to be one of those days. It was and worse. Oxford (sensibly) began to sit in even more and play for the counter attack. United improved after the goal and started to pin Oxford back. Barlaser got into the game for and began to spray some fantastic passes and come into the game. The ball was fed into Mitrovic on ’65 and a powerful run was halted by a foul from the defender. Penalty. Right decision. Well done Mitrovic and a chance for him to put right the wrongs of missing those first half chances. It wasn’t to be. A good save but soft penalty was saved and that was that really. Two further goals followed from crosses into the box and The game we controlled and played well in the first half, turned into a nightmare. The defending was shit.
A young team fell apart pushing for an equaliser. It was a really poor second half performance. Oxford deserved their win (despite only having three chances) and credit to them. I wish them well in the rest of the competition.
I didn’t enjoy today for many reasons. Following this club away from home has been far from straight forwards ever since I stated doing it. This season, in a lower division, has been the exception. The away support today was practically non-existent apart from a spell at one nil down until the penalty. It was a talking point at half time and it was put ‘well the team need to give us something to shout about’. If that’s the craic then away games are as fucked as home games. United controlled the first half and should have gone in at least one ahead.
The reaction to the defeat by many was as expected but no less disappointing. Booing. Aggression. Swearing at Jamal Lascelles and De Andre Yedlin who came across to applaud the support. Aye, it was shit second half. I was there. I’m still here writing this, in Oxford. It pissed me off.
But this team owe me nothing. The manager owes me nothing. I’ve been at away win after away win this season. I knew the craic coming down today. We’d play a weak team as the priority is getting promoted. I thought we’d win, there was a chance we’d be beaten. We lost, badly, in the second half. Screaming abuse at the team (and the subs that didn’t play) just makes you look like what you are. People at each other’s throats all game. Arguments about loyalty points, Mitrovic and ‘Ashley doing it again’. Get a grip. A fight broke out in front of me at the end, there were three lads under the age of ten to my left and sensibly their Dad got them out of there ASAP. I wonder what they’ll take from this game. I hope the people throwing punches because someone disagrees about how shit United’s now third choice striker is, are banned for life.
If it’s not enough for you; getting promoted, a cup quarter final and a fourth round exit, it’ll never be enough. We capitulated on the pitch for the first time this season. The first time, with a reserve side out as we need to get promoted.
A stinking day. Little can be taken from it. Sels has failed to make a save of note, again. His kicking was really poor. Curtis Good did OK as did Barlaser and El-Mhanni. Haidara looks like a good ball playing CB. That’s it. Brighton suffered an even greater humiliation than we did. At least that fixture won’t be moved at short notice.
On to Wednesday.
Newcastle United: Sels 3, Gamez 5, HAIDARA 6, Hanley 5, Good 5, Lazaar 5, Perez 2, Hayden 6, Barlaser 5, El-Mhanni 5, Mitrovic 2
ALEX HURST – FOLLOW ALEX ON @tfalex1892
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