So what exactly did we learn on a Five Star evening in East London? One thing’s for sure, Rain or Shine, Eddie is definitely a System Addict. While I get my coat, here’s Sam Dalling (@SamJDalling) with his five rather more insightful lessons from the away end…
- When we are good, we are very, very good, and when we are bad…we win 5-1
Ok, so bad is pushing it a bit. But that first half was as sloppy as it gets. Conditions hardly helped. Water is little excuse for pass after pass going astray. It was uncharacteristic.
Yet United still found a way to be two to the good early doors. West Ham would argue – and David Moyes did argue, quite eloquently to be fair – that they should have been level at the break.
But for all his side’s huffing and puffing, their output was minimal. Confidence was sapped. Clinical? Absolutely not. It was like United’s first-half last Sunday. It looked effective, had the crowd involved, but did not really get anywhere. The type of game where you know, as the lesser side, you might get punished for profligacy.
And so, it proved. Whereas against Manchester United it was us, as hosts, who stepped up the quality after the break, it was us, as visitors, who did so at West Ham. It was cruise control. Yes, we got gifts, and neatly wrapped-up ones at that. But there was always a sense that an extra gear shift or two existed.
Against a better side, we might have had a trickier evening. We didn’t. We’ve been on the receiving in this type of game many times. It is nice to be on t’other side.
- Maxi-mum effort
Hats, scarves, and retro polyester off to Allan Saint-Maximin. Plenty deemed him finished at United, the author included. We believed Eddie was keeping ASM around because he needed, rather than wanted, him. But a pair of assists in two games, suggests there is hope. Football fans, eh? When will we ever learn? Not like Howe has a track record of resurrecting Newcastle careers or anything!
ASM is starting to look like the hybrid winger Howe wants. For many seasons, Maxi was the main man. A singular Mars in a boxload of Bounty bars. ‘Give it Allan and see what happens?’
But he is learning; he is taking on instructions; he is finding the blend between maverick and moving the ball quickly. He is a man sticking the ‘I’ firmly in team. ASM’s strength was his unpredictability. Tempering that, therefore, was a risk. But the signs are promising.
Allan Saint-Maximin vs West Ham.
— NUFCTalk 🥇 (@Newcastle_FC) April 6, 2023
- Strength in depth
This, and this is alone, will likely be the difference between Champions League and Europa League football for Newcastle United next season.
Not so long ago, Howe was naming an octet of full backs in his matchday squad. United fans would stare enviously at opposition benches, bemoaning our own lack of rotatory options.
That, though, has changed.
First, Howe was able to do some unforced tinkering to the starting line-up.
Plenty expressed surprise at Callum Wilson’s inclusion. How intelligent is it to leave AI on the side? True, the Swede might just pip Bruno as the United player with the highest ceiling. But the turnaround is tight, and with both Wilson and Isak having legs made of biscuits, some management is required. Therefore, was it really a shock?
Wilson looks sharp again. Eddie has said as much. And he loves playing against West Ham. Six minutes in, Callum gave us the lead. Seconds after the second half began, he grabbed his third in 100 minutes of football. He will still likely be benched on Saturday.
And back came big Joelinton, the missing midfield destroyer. The curvature of his run was perfect, the ball from Fabian Schär sublime. 2-0. 13 minutes gone. Joelinton also grabbed the fifth. Two changes, two braces.
Three changes came with 64 minutes gone. Now, if you’re an already struggling defence, the sight of Alexander Isak, Anthony Gordon, and Joe Willock will have you running for the hills. More pace, more panache, more outstanding football.
Isak’s goal was ice fucking freezing. It is going to be some love story, this one. And AG has that swagger of a real baller about him. He is a grafter, too. Long may the selection headaches continue.
The way Alexander Isak watched the ball go in after Lukasz Fabianski's mistake 🙃 pic.twitter.com/LKCD3EsdOZ
— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 6, 2023
- You can (sadly) beat Dan Burn
Look, we all love the bloke to bits. Dan Burn has done a brilliantly unexpected job. He has a Newcastle United origin story that would have Professor Xavier purring. He is a giant part of the Premier League’s best defence.
1 – Newcastle have only lost one of the 23 Premier League games in which Dan Burn, Fabian Schär, Sven Botman and Kieran Trippier have all started together (W13 D9). Lads. pic.twitter.com/IV9VPkZ4ie
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 5, 2023
We all want to be him. He is each and every one of us at heart. But he is not really a left-back at this level. A makeshift stand-in sure. But a regular? He does his best, but first Antony, last Sunday, and then Jarrod Bowen, last night, rammed home reality.
Plenty point to Burn’s tackle numbers. But what portion of those were recoveries, were borne out of positioning, came from not quite having that extra half-yard? A decent number.
Others use isolation as mitigation, with ASM the supposed culprit. But is that not the point? If you are going to play a winger less inclined (or indeed able) to help out defensively, surely the man behind him must be stronger still.
Opponents are very aware of this. They target Burn. They will continue to target Burn. It might, in a game of real importance, cost us.
Speaking of targets, Matthew’s time has come. And no, I don’t mean Pottsy of this Parish.
- The grass is not always green(street)er…
52,000 is not enough is the common line. Yes, United could have shifted thousands more seats for each SJP clash this season. But at what cost?
There are limited ways in which Newcastle’s current home can be altered. Stephen Hodgson explores them brilliantly here.
The alternative then is a venue change. And last night’s oppo are a shining (well, more tarnished) example of the risks attached to selling a football club’s soul.
Imagine going from the Boleyn Ground – a grand old ‘proper’ football stadium – to an arena that really ought to have librarians not stewards. Footballers are often said to be metaphorically detached from supporters. Well, inside London’s most expensive vacuous space, they are physically detached too.
The away end exists as two separate entities, partitioned by metre after metre of nothing. Where are the local pubs? Where are the locals? Where are the independent businesses that have survived for decades solely off of 19 days’ trading per annum? Where is the bloody atmosphere? Gone. All gone.
New ground? Not for me, Clive.
Sam Dalling @SamJDalling