Updated: Sep 16
You can't get much for a tenner these days, can you? An adult match ticket at St. James' Park for a Carabao Cup Round Two game could possibly be argued as value for money, at a vastly reduced rate from Premier League prices. With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to keep us away from our grey plastic thrones, an online stream was offered to us as an alternative and legal option to watch Steve Bruce's undefeated team take on Tony Mowbray's Lancashire outfit. That the price for watching the game on your phone, laptop, or casting to your TV cost the same as the matchday experience of walking up the concrete steps of the cathedral on the hill was enough to deter many fans. Lucky bastards.
The Corbridge Clough made ten changes to the eleven who turned David Moyes into a wizened willow tree on Saturday night, as only Javier Manquillo retained his place for the Zurab Khizanishvili Derby. In a busy schedule, and with plenty of apparently decent players missing out on the opportunity to look better than Declan Rice, the wholesale changes were as expected as they were sensible. With such rotation, as a fan, you immediately have to ask yourself what you want to see from the fixture. It's unlikely that you're going to see much fluidity from eleven players who have probably never featured in the same lineup before and your main men from the weekend weren't in the squad.
It can be argued that cup competitions are all about progressing - the old cliché of having your name in the hat is all that really matters, especially when you know that Morecambe or Oldham await (confirmed at fulltime as Morecambe). Next up in the list of pragmatic priorities, in a team fielding only one recognised central defender, you don't want to see any further injuries. Finally, you hope to get a good look at debutants and squad players who have yet to exhaust their opportunities to showcase their ability in black and white.
Having paid my £10 and logged into a reassuringly high quality stream, I was disappointed to find no commentary as if I was watching a particularly dodgy and illegal stream. The first five minutes did not improve my mood as Blackburn enjoyed 83% of possession as Newcastle reverted to their passive style of 2019/20. Just as I was once again questioning one of my life decisions, the commentary kicked in after seven minutes and sparked new life into me.
The same was also true of the home side as Miguel Almirón drifted left before picking out debutant Ryan Fraser's bursting run through the middle with a good pass. Only a corner was gained but it was an encouraging sign of the linkup play between the two, early in the game.
Unfortunately, this moment did not spark life into Newcastle and the next ten minutes saw a very passive off-the-ball approach, with Joelinton around halfway and his teammates far behind him as the successful high press of Saturday appeared to have been abandoned. Lewis Holtby's shot just wide of the post serving as a warning shot to a lacklustre showing from the home team.
After watching Andy Carroll's support role to Callum Wilson on Saturday, it was hoped among the optimistic section of our supporters (me included) that this may present the final opportunity for Joelinton to find a role in black and white. Although he returned to last season's unsuccessful role of lone striker, at least he had a strong supporting cast in Fraser, Almirón and Ritchie against a Championship team. In the 19th minute, he won a high ball and played it back to Almirón, who returned the ball back to him in the box before the Brazilian cut back and lost possession. Be patient, think positive.
Just before the half hour mark, Almirón made good progress down the left before playing it into Ryan Fraser who pulled the ball back to no avail but it was another example of the link up between the two as Almirón continued to drift left while Fraser made runs from an inside left position. Those two were just about the only thing keeping my eyes on the game at this point as my eyes wandered so much that I began repeating, 'Try our Himalayan salt dry-aged Tomahawk steaks' as I read from one of the advertising hoardings to avoid the increasingly passive display on the pitch.
Although possession had dropped to 58% to Blackburn by this point, Newcastle continued in a shape that saw Joelinton around halfway, Almirón not far behind him but the rest of the team around the edge of their own box or even deeper. Blackburn enjoyed all the time they wanted on the ball as the home side seemed perfectly happy to not engage or press at all.
Just as the positivity of the West Ham performance was starting to ebb away from my mind, Almirón once again drifted left in midfield as Fraser made that left to right inside run and was played in by the smiling metronome before finishing beyond the 'keeper with his right foot. The Scotsman joining Jeff Hendrick and Callum Wilson as a debut goal scorer for his new club. House of Fraser, indeed.
Just as I was feeling positive again, Joelinton said, 'Hold my Caipirinha!' to the social media video of Kai Havertz booting the ball straight of play as he controlled the ball just inside the Blackburn half and passed the ball firmly to the dugout rather than the two or three teammates available to him. Must. Stay. Positive.
A couple of minutes later, Almirón once again picked out a Ryan Fraser run which was then stopped with the concession of a corner. Those two really were the plus point of the first half with their movement, direct play and link up. Other than that, hearing the commentator say Rankin-Costello and imagining Elvis Costello covering Althea & Donna's 'Uptown Top Ranking' was the only entertainment from a flaccid forty-five.
However, the 46th minute saw Dan Barlaser give it to Almirón around halfway before the Paraguayan roadrunner took it towards the Blackburn goal before shooting narrowly over. Half-time. 63% possession to Blackburn. One shot on target. Do you do refunds?
Other than the Almirón -Fraser combination, my main half-time thoughts were that Lewis Holtby looked better than both Longstaff and Barlaser and that Gillespie had demonstrated good handling and quick distribution. Then they played Coldplay and my brain exploded.
A few minutes into the second half, Matt Ritchie crossed from the right with Fraser and Almirón bursting into the box. 'Where's Joe?', I hear you ask. As the expensive stream only had one camera, it's hard to say, although he was spotted jogging back to regain possession around 40 yards from goal shortly afterwards. A few minutes later, a long ball saw the Brazilian run through alongside a Blackburn defender as the 'keeper found himself out of his box but not close enough to challenge. Showing all the balance and composure of Bambi on ice, Joelinton tumbled to the ground while claiming a foul that never was. He was good at Hoffenheim, honest!
Second half thoughts during pauses in play drifted to just how much I'd seen our big number nine on the ground, as well as just how bad DeAndre Yedlin is. It says all you need to know about the American that he makes Javier Manquillo look quite canny, as he performed equally poorly in defence and attack to cement the Spaniards place as our number one in that position. I suppose there are only so many times you can buy an ex-Sunderland player and expect them to be decent.
Just before the hour mark, Mark Gillespie made a very good double save as he dived to his right to stop a long-range effort before getting up to save the rebound with his feet. The equivalent to a debut goal, for our old-new goalkeeper.
That initial long-range strike came from Ben Brereton, an expensive signing for Blackburn at £7m. Coming into the game, he had scored only two goals in forty-eight appearances. Sound familiar? However, he could not have been further from Newcastle's expensive flop with his performance as he showed for the ball, ran the channels, held the ball up, carried it forward and got shots away.
Several minutes after the Gillespie double-save, Brereton once again showed good play down the right before putting the ball across the box. Youngster Tyrhys Dolan showed good skill before laying it back to Holtby, who shot just wide due to a slight deflection.
In the 69th minute, Almirón played it into Joelinton, who turned and ran towards goal. His direct run opened up space and he shot from outside the area into the welcoming arms of the 'keeper, who has probably faced tougher shots from mascots at half-time. A couple of minutes later, the busy Almirón dispossessed Holtby and played in the Brazilian once more but his finish into the Gallowgate End net was ruled out for offside. Time to go, son.
Newcastle started the game with Allan Saint-Maximin, Christian Atsu and Jacob Murphy as the only attacking substitutes, with no striker on the bench. Unfortunately, there wasn't one on the pitch either. In a move that no doubt caused many hearts to enter their respective mouths, Steve Bruce brought on Saint-Maximin for the ineffective Brazilian in the 73rd minute. The Frenchman entered the field like a dog that had been locked in a car, while watching other dogs chase a Frisbee for over an hour.
I don't recall a Newcastle chance beyond this moment as Brucelona reached new levels of depth and passivity to their shape without the ball. Ex-Newcastle player Adam Armstrong shot from range but found the welcoming gloves of Gillespie in the middle of the goal and a weak Yedlin header needed the 'keeper to be quick off his line to divert the ball for a corner which he then easily claimed.
The 89th minute then saw the moment I'd spent the previous sixteen fearing, as another positive run from Brereton, eventually taking the ball half the length of the pitch, was initially challenged by Saint-Maximin. As the single camera panned back to the winger clutching his left knee, I could almost hear the social media updates being furiously typed about Bruce's decision to bring him on. Brucey's bacon was spared as the Frenchman returned to his feet and completed the game, although any damage beyond tonight remains to be seen.
Stoppage time saw two more moments from Brereton, as he won a header from a corner which resulted in a volley over the bar, before once again finding space in the box only to be denied by a Jacob Murphy challenge.
The full-time whistle was met with silence, of course, as the absence of fans removed the possibility of jeers for what was a largely forgettable performance. Gillespie did nothing wrong, Fraser had some good moments and Almirón was lively. Other than that, put this one down as a 'cup games are all about the result' fixture. Neither Barlaser nor Longstaff used their ninety minutes to suggest that they are close to usurping Shelvey, Hayden and Hendrick as the midfield trio in the Premier League. They were outpassed by Blackburn's midfield, never had control of the middle of the pitch, created nothing and barely put in a successful challenge. If this was their audition, they're not getting a callback any time soon. Meanwhile, Joelinton probably ended the rumours of a move to Turkey with yet another fowl display. Sorry. His one touch in the box showing exactly why Callum Wilson is already so important to this team.
So was it worth the tenner? No, absolutely not, but it's a rare occasion when Newcastle United offer value for money to its supporters and this was no different. Not that the club set the price for this stream but I was not entertained or impressed by much of what I saw. The pessimist in me questions why a Championship side finished with 64% possession, more shots on target, more shots off target and more corners than a Premier League side in their own ground. The pragmatist in me says we won the tie, we face Morecambe in the next round and, as long as Saint-Maximin is ok, we didn't suffer any injuries. The optimist in me is saving himself for Sunday.