Seventeen minutes in to last night’s game against Liverpool a friend text me to say, ‘we should try this passing forward thing more often’. Thirty minutes in and I was unclear on what I was watching. Newcastle United… playing quite well? Against top of the table Liverpool? It’s a Christmas miracle!
As usual we started the evening with the team sheet – if we thought Man City was an indicator that Bruce was rotating the teams we were wrong, by the way, as he made one change – not much to get too excited about given it was basically the same team that were barely there against Man City, but Wilson was back, which was a boost, supported by Joelinton (less said about him the better) and Murphy (a player I increasingly respect). Seemed like five at the back; okay, it’s Liverpool, it’s Bruce, what did you expect?
Well, I didn’t expect that. The match kicked off, and we didn’t immediately capitulate. Then we didn’t capitulate at all. It was a bit of a revelation, and proof of what this team can do, to watch our starting eleven work together and press high up the pitch. Liverpool didn’t look particularly comfortable for about 85 minutes of this game. There was a nail biting last seven minutes or so as they tried hard to turn one point into three, but couldn’t. Matty Longstaff was excellent in midfield. I know it probably sounds like histrionics, but I think he changes our game for the better. He was given (or created for himself) loads of space, not being man marked and able to receive and carry the ball higher up the pitch, something we’ve been crying out for. He’s not the final answer but it was nice to see some creativity and pace in midfield.
Reading this so far you’d be forgiven for thinking we smashed Liverpool 5-0. Of course we did not. I’m aware that we’re still looking at a dearth of shots on target, and we’re not creating the chances we should be. But last night’s performance had such glimmers of hope in it, in a club, and recent performances that have offered so little, and a year that simply has not let up on the bad news, that I’m letting myself get carried away a bit. Let me have this?
The proof of last night’s pudding (0-0 at home to Liverpool) will be in the eating (Leicester on Sunday) ((I’m quite aware that was a torturous shoehorning in of that proverb but again: let me have this)). We’ve seen good performances of the last year or so, only to revert straight back to type the next chance we had. I’d absolutely love us to take yesterday’s momentum into Leicester on Sunday (I’ll be doing my warm-up show on YouTube the hour before, again, if you’re so inclined).
It would also be remiss of me not to mention Karl Darlow who once again made some amazing saves, including being one-on-one with Salah in the first half and managing to get his fingers on the ball ensuring it went wide of the net. Really, really impressive from him. Having Dubravka back on the bench was great news, but he’s got some work to do to get back in the squad after some of Darlow’s recent performances. A little healthy squad competition is no bad thing.
Last night also begets the question: if we could, why did we not? That’s an important one. If we’d played like that against Brentford we’d be in the Semi Final of the League Cup, I’m sure of it. We could have played that way against City. We could have had a more positive approach for many of our games. But we have to look forward, not back, especially after this year. Sunday will answer lots of these questions.