YOUSEF HATEM (@yousef_1892) reflects on a rain-soaked Champions’ League defeat in NE1…
Callum Wilson is not Alexander Isak
Callum does what Callum does, and does it very well. His goal return is superb. Unlucky not to score last night when his header came back off the crossbar, and – as always – posed a threat. But if intensity is our identity, pressing our watchword, then this has to be led from the front, and Wilson simply cannot offer the simultaneously breathless and intelligent running that Isak does. He can’t reliably lead that press. Not for ninety minutes anyway, and not against opponents of the calibre we faced last night. Isak has a groin injury, and his absence is being measured in weeks, not days. He can’t come back soon enough. It’s absolutely not a judgment on a man who in all likelihood will soon be second only to Alan Shearer in terms of Premier League goals for Newcastle. It’s just to acknowledge how critical the big Swede is to the way we like to play. We might have to find a slightly different way to play while he’s out.
It’s football, but not as we know it
Matches in this competition are less a series of flashpoints, easily followed via the BBC live text, than an encounter. There was ebb, flow, intricacy and structure to last night. It was, though ultimately disappointing, absorbing. And, in its way, beautiful. The incessant drum-beat from our Westphalian friends high up in the Leazes seemed the more appropriate soundtrack to what was happening below, than the sporadic roars of outrage or encouragement from the home support. This – more than the PSG night – was an accurate representation of what Champions League football looks like. European opposition isn’t necessarily superior. Our next visitors, Arsenal, are arguably a better side than Dortmund. But the football in this competition is different. Maybe it’s because European opponents don’t have the frame of reference that domestic ones do – nobody will turn up to St James’ with the fear that Crystal Palace did. Maybe it’s the format. Maybe it’s the continentals’ residual ability to retain possession better than an English side. Maybe it’s the confidence and swagger that comes with being used to sitting at Europe’s top table. Whatever it is, Dortmund had it last night. We’ll get there. The margins are fine, and we only came up just short. This isn’t a different level – it’s just different football. We can do this.
Rain, rain everywhere
The sodden conditions were a factor, but not an excuse. John Carver famously blamed “hot weather” for a defeat at QPR once, momentarily confusing Shepherd’s Bush in April, with Death Valley in July. Eddie Howe thankfully did not follow suit. It did, after all, rain on German heads and not just Geordie ones. One thing that Dortmund did much better than us, though, was to deal with the conditions. They did not attempt through-balls, difficult to weight at the best of times, nigh on impossible in a downpour where the ball skidded off the turf. Dortmund looked after the ball. They kept it simpler, and played it shorter, than we did. We were wasteful in possession and, on a night when relentless rain left no margin for error, we were found out. The clocks go back this weekend. It’s big coat weather now until March. Rain and wind will play their part over the coming months. More important than ever, then, to treat the ball with more care than we did last night.
The return of Joe Willock
On a night when injuries to two players – Isak and Murphy – provided an additional reason to be less than cheerful, comfort could be taken from the return of Joe Willock, featuring for the first time this term. Howe said, afterwards, that it had not been planned for Willock to feature, but – at least from my East Stand perch – he looked ready. Here is a player who does look after the football, who treats it with a degree of care that Miggy, Longstaff and Joelinton sometimes do not (and, last night, did not). He was back doing what we know he does best – gliding across the pitch, running at defenders, finding space where none was immediately apparent, and constantly moving off the ball. With Tonali’s impending absence, the injuries piling up – Anderson, too, is out – and two games a week for the foreseeable future, his return could not have been better timed, and he’s already given us a glimpse of what we’ve been missing. Welcome back, little Joe.
The atmosphere police are back
What was the atmosphere like? As always, it depends where you were sat, and whom you were with. As someone who doesn’t get to many games, I can’t compare it to PSG or for that matter any other game. Here are four things I do know, though. Number one. Pre-match flag displays aren’t the same as vocal support to the team. Number two. There’s nothing particularly special or unique about us as a group of supporters. I know. Ouch. Number three. Arguments about who should or shouldn’t be there, what they should or shouldn’t be wearing, and how they should or shouldn’t be experiencing the match, are pointless and a bit dull. And number four. We lost because Dortmund were better than us, and scored a supremely well-taken goal. It had little to do with whether the bloke three seats to your left, in his half-and-half scarf, knew the words to Blaydon Races or not. Obvious to most. Less obvious to some.
YOUSEF HATEM / @yousef_1892