52,000 of us filed into SJP on another dark and cold evening with the festive excesses impacting our optimism. All of us knew we were in for a long night but after a few too many pale ales in the Forth on Pink Lane (another tremendous pub for those that haven’t been) I convinced myself we were going to pull off an upset.
10 seconds into the game it became clear that was not going to happen.
The first 45 minutes of that game is by far the most negative performance I’ve seen from a Newcastle side hone or away. Our furthest forward man, Joselu, didn’t really get beyond 10 yards inside our own half. Defence camped on the 18 yard line or deeper. We made no attempt whatsoever to pass the ball or play any real football and resorted to the old “lump it forward and run after it” to provide some short relief to the relentless City pressure.
It seemed clear that Rafa had a plan – get to half time level and push on from there. People might not agree with that and there will be some out there shouting about how McLaren/Pardew would have been slated for that performance. That may be right but under them it wouldn’t have been on purpose, it wouldn’t have been part of a wider strategy or team ethos. Rafa has tried to implement a specific style of play all season and the plan last night was just an extreme version of that plan adapted as we welcomed one of the most potent attacking sides in PL history.
If we’re all honest with ourselves we were lucky to get in at half time only 1-0 down. City had chance after chance and a couple of very good Rob Elliott saves kept us in the game (at least on paper).
The second half was slightly better and the introduction of Gayle offered us a slightly different and more effective outlet. We grew into the game a bit and had a couple of half chances – Gayle’s dive was really frustrating as he had the chance to get the shot away but if he’d won the pen we would be singing his name. Gayle probably should have done better with a header in a well worked move down our left but for us to have snatched a point from that game would have been totally unjust.
I didn’t enjoy last night – I don’t like how the style of play was basically an acknowledgement of the gulf in class between us and City’s dirty money funded billionaires. I did not like watching our team unwillingness to try to pass the ball. I didn’t like City’s sold out away allocation full of lifelong fans who went to their first game less than 10 years ago. However I won’t criticise Rafa or the players for that performance. The lads gave their best and all looked exhausted at the final whistle. Rafa’s plan to bridge the divide between the teams didn’t work last night but on another night it would have. I’m secretly almost a little bit pleased we didn’t win so I didn’t have to keep drinking.
Roll on Saturday and three points against Brighton. Happy chrafamas and all the best for the new year.
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