Updated: Oct 1, 2020
League Two opposition once again offered Newcastle United an immediate chance to temporarily silence fan discontent, following another disappointing Premier League performance at the weekend. Steve Bruce spent the build-up to the game complaining that, when you are Newcastle United manager, how your team plays is analysed after poor performances and fans have an opinion on how their team ought to be playing. A startling revelation, apparently, after twenty years in football management.
Regarding our lower league opponents, Bruce had this to say, "They're a good side who play the right way, play three at the back and try and play through you.” An interesting statement from the manager when Newcastle have failed to register a through ball in three Premier League games so far this season and hit long passes 36% of the time.
So, to South Wales for a teatime kick-off that tested the early finish capabilities of many a 9-5 worker. A masked commute later, once home, there was no opportunity afforded by late kick-offs to get the children in bed before starting on the cans. Television viewing, tea making and parenting under the influence was executed with expert precision. Who says men can’t multitask?
Last week’s tie at Morecambe provided everything Steve Bruce and his players could have hoped for during a comfortable and comprehensive victory, with multiple goals, scored by multiple different players. Newport’s recent pedigree was slightly higher than our previous opponent as they had dispatched Watford (who took four points from Newcastle in their relegation season) in the previous round with a 3-1 win. However, this was undoubtedly a fantastic opportunity for Newcastle United to reach the quarter finals of a cup competition.
Disclaimer: In the previous two rounds, due to the game only being available via a stream, I went into depth about moments in the game so that those unable to watch it could get a feel for what happened. As this game was on Sky Sports and as we were absolutely shite, I'll be taking a different approach tonight.
After commenting in last week’s match report that 26th time's a charm for Sean Longstaff’s long-range shooting, it took two minutes of this game to prove me wrong as he blazed over the bar from distance. He must use different balls in training. Can we stop the talk that he can play a more advanced number ten role, please?
A couple of minutes later, Twine showed him how it’s done as he shot from range off the crossbar and the ball bounced back to Abrahams who benefited from Krafth’s failed clearance to take the ball down on his chest and volley towards goal. He can’t have been confident in scoring from his scuffed effort but Mark Gillespie made a horrendous error in the Newcastle goal and allowed the slow moving ball to flick beyond him into the net.
There has been a lot discussed this season about Newcastle’s lack of identity, style or process. We will be covering this topic in depth in a piece published next week but it was laid bare for all to see in this performance. There is absolutely no evidence on the football pitch to suggest what Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United are trying to achieve when they are out there. If your team don’t have an idea or a belief of how you want to play with the ball, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s Tottenham or Newport at the other end of the pitch and Newcastle looked just as poor tonight as they did against Kane, Son, et al.
What exactly was the game plan tonight? A team that stuck with 4-4-2 against possession-based Brighton because it somehow worked away at West Ham, stuck with 4-2-3-1 away at Newport because it somehow worked away at Tottenham. The thing is with formations, is that they’re theoretical drawings entirely dependent on execution. You can call it what you want but if there is no pressing, fluency, control or progression then it really doesn’t matter.
You can play Andy Carroll on his own, tell him to stay high, push full backs on, get the ball wide and provide a service and it might just work. Or you can play how we did today.
Andy Cole was in the studio for today’s game and he couldn’t have been involved any less than Andy Carroll in Newcastle’s attack this evening. For all Joelinton is the poster boy for the trolls, Carroll is still yet to score since returning North and looked way off League Two pace as he barely got near a cross all evening.
Newcastle lacked drive, tempo and ambition in a dreadful first half, during which only Jacob Murphy came out with any credit for at least showing for the ball and testing the ‘keeper on a few occasions. Non-football highlights included the commentator describing Joelinton as ‘a hitman’ and Steve Bruce removing his coat after 25 mins, presumably too hot from all the sexy football. Meanwhile, Javier Manquillo had gloves on, as if the Sky cameras opting for Newcastle away to lower league opposition in the cup wasn't enough of an omen for an upset. Thank God there wasn't a crowd or a shit pitch.
During the second half, the cameras zoomed in on the nearby houses to show a fan watching the game through his window. The irony was not lost on me, as I stared out of mine to avoid it. Newcastle were terrible and an hour in, Bruce brought on Wilson and Joelinton for the ineffective Almirón and the quite frankly useless Carroll. We improved but in the same way that painting some of the exterior bricks on the Gallowgate corner improved the inside of St. James' Park.
In what can only be described as a microcosm of Newcastle United under Steve Bruce, arguably the worst player on the pitch, Jonjo Shelvey, scored the equaliser in the 87th minute. After almost an entire game of misplaced passes, aimless long balls, dreadful set pieces, poor tackles and even worse body language, he twisted and turned around the corner of the box before finding the far corner of the Newport net. Hello crack, meet paper.
Normally when Newcastle go into a shootout, I fear the worst (we have lost 10 of 11) but I just knew that once again an inept performance was going to receive the Brucey get out of jail free card. Despite Joelinton missing his penalty (it would be him, wouldn’t it), misses from Ryan Taylor (no, not him) and a Chris Waddle impersonation from Newport’s final taker ensured Newcastle’s undeserved progress to the next round.
We have been told time and time again as Newcastle fans recently that it is the result that matters. Why are we complaining about no shots on target until a stoppage time penalty when, ultimately, we have four points from our first three games? What’s wrong with us? I suspect some of those voices will tell us that we are in the quarter final of the cup and why on earth are we complaining about how we got there?! They're tricky away ties against lower league oppositions, you know!
The problem is, and an increasing number of fans are catching onto this, that Newcastle’s primary tactic appears to be luck. Opposition shots off the woodwork, stoppage time equalisers or an individual moment. This is obviously an unsustainable approach that will likely find us out sooner rather than later. There is no progress, no plan, no process, no pressing, no possession and absolute minimum pleasure in watching this team.
Sure, we're into the quarter final and we can park this competition for a while until that stage is played. It's certainly better to be in the draw than not and I feel better than I would have if we'd lost tonight. Quarter final, wahey!
Honestly, though, what's the point? We can't go to the game so there's no enjoyment of the occasion, is there? In the North East, we're all in lockdown from tonight anyway!
What chance have we got of beating any of the bigger sides when that's how we play against a team three divisions below us? If we can't outplay or outthink them, how will we get beyond a Manchester City, Everton, Liverpool or, fuck me, even Aston Villa?!
‘Everything I do is analysed…how we play…it’s the constant he doesn’t know what he’s doing…we should be playing like this…blah blah blah.’
At some point in the game I shouted at the television, 'Mark Twine!' as he twisted and turned in space between our lines. It therefore seems fitting that I end this with a quote from Mark Twain (see what I did there?):
"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt."