One of those days. That’s how today felt. Like one of those days that United just weren’t going to score. Whether it was the dull and cold weather, or perhaps the sheer amount of energy spent on getting to that magical 40-point mark, both players and fans in the ground seemed to feel a bit flat. The atmosphere and the performance reflected each other. Lethargic, lacking intensity and pretty much feeling like the reality of the situation we’re in – a few games left until the end of the season with safety assured.
Dwight Gayle being restored to the line-up in place of Big Slim seemed to be widely accepted as a positive decision amongst the people I spoke with given how the he and Shelvey had been working in tandem perfectly during the 4 game winning streak that catapulted us into the top 10. Unfortunately, the magic of those games just did not come off against the Throstles. West Brom’s caretaker gaffer, the likeable Darren Moore, has clearly got his side back-to-basics after the debacle of Pards and Geordie John and his 442 formation with big lads in every position worked. United couldn’t seem to build-up any kind of momentum, the threat that our wide players and central midfield 2 usually offer was nullified by a wall of power every time we looked like something might be on.
Additionally, even when United’s players were on the ball (over 60% possession for the home side), the passing was off. Shelvey’s usual accuracy was, for the most part, lacking and Ritchie, tireless and as intense as ever, just could not get his final ball to come off. The first 28 minutes were, for want of a better word, drab. And the WBA scored. A decent enough bit of play but, unfortunately, Dummy had an off day and Phillips could sense that he had the beating of him fairly early on. Great finish from the winger but it’s a goal that wouldn’t have happened against Huddersfield or Southampton or Leicester because the players concentration levels during that critical period were at their maximum. Not today and they were punished.
However, the goal did seem to spark a brief burst of application and intensity. Pérez and Kenedy working a lovely 1-2 ending with our Brazilian winger’s shot hitting the base of the post. From where we were watching it looked like he attempted to curl it with the outside of the left boot rather than pass it in with the right. If it had gone in not only would it have been a great way for Kenedy to sign-off in what could be his last appearance at St James’ Park in black and white, it probably would’ve given the fans and players the impetus to go on and push for the win. WBA were organised and solid but they completely lacked ambition to attack.
Big Mo then struck a powerful shot that was deflected over after some good build-up play and a killer pass from Jonjo. However, we went in 1-0 down at HT. The discussion at this point was whether or not Rafa would give the players a bit of a rocket at HT or if he’d find it tough to do so given the monumental effort they’ve put in this season to ensure we’re safe with 4 games left to play (his post-match comments suggest he was very hacked-off with the whole performance so I’m assuming a rocket was delivered at some point).
The second-half saw Dummy replaced, Kenedy move to LB and Ritchie to LM with Jacob Murphy going on the right. It did inject a bit more urgency to the play but, as with the first half, the quality was just not there. A few chances were fashioned, a couple form corners and the team did look slightly more dangerous when Slimani came on. It was hard not to feel sorry for Gayle today as for some reason crosses seemed to be getting floated in to him which was never going to work given WBA’s fullbacks and centre-halves are all units. Gayle was also incredibly unlucky with a header that Foster saved – some save to be fair. Again, fine margins, if it had gone in you’d think the whole complexion might have changed. The lads huffed and puffed for a bit but as soon as it got into the last 10 minutes it was almost as if they’d ran out of ideas. West Brom dug in as they could sense the 3 points were theirs. The game fizzled out although Joselu missed an easy chance with a terrible header that should’ve been buried. There also seemed to be a bit of needle between Slimani and Dawson although I haven’t had the benefit of highlights or reading a report yet so let’s hope he hasn’t gotten himself into bother with the FA.
I can only apologise for this boring match summary but it mirrors the game I witnessed – flat, lethargic, a bit end-of-season and lacking in finesse. However, nee point being disheartened as we’ve had an excellent season. We certainly didn’t deserve to lose today (probably didn’t deserve to win either – a 1-1 draw would’ve been fair). I think 2 months ago this was a fixture we thought we’d be in needing to win and the fact it wasn’t is testament to the players and management. Anyone who booed at the end is an imbecile, plain and simple. The effort that has been put in to get this side in to the top 10 has been Herculean. Everton and West Brom have just been come downs from the high of securing safety in the Premier League. Lessons will be learned from this and the future, as long as Rafa is given what he asks for, is still very bright.
HOWAY THE LADS.
NORMAN RILEY – FOLLOW NORMAN ON @LIKETHEGOAT
You can still get true faith’s matchday issue of THE SPECIAL for this game – just click here
true faith – Newcastle United Fanzine – Issue 138. 2017/18.
This is the latest issue of true faith. It is issue 138 of the fanzine we’ve been producing since 1999. The fanzine is over 90 pages of fanzine writing which is a heady mix of analysis of Newcastle United now and in days gone by. We have loads of other types of material in there for you as well. The fanzine is FREE to download. You can download the fanzine and read it offline if you choose. We all hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did putting it together.