by Rob Clothier | 2nd July 2020

It’s been another typical week in the fortunes of Newcastle United.  After the very average 1-1 home draw against Aston Vile in the Premier League, we first of all faced up against one of Europe’s best – Manchester City – in what was our first appearance in the Quarter Final stage of the FA Cup for 14 years.

“The magic of the Cup” people always say.  The oldest football competition in the world.  Where minnows stand toe-to-toe with giants and have their moment in the spotlight.  Newcastle fans could be forgiven for expecting their team to show at least a glimmer of ambition.  Whenever I tune in to watch FA Cup football, it is with the expectation that a proper display of football will be on show from both sides, despite whatever difference in ability exists between the two sides.

As the team news came out, there were a few surprises, or should that be shocks?  Most glaringly, Steve Bruce had decided to play the hit and miss Karl Darlow in goal, in place of our number 1 Martin Dubravka.  This filled me with dread.  Thinking back to that ‘air kick’ that Darlow performed away at Norwich City in the Championship season of 2016/17.  Arguably the biggest game of our entire season, why drop your best goalkeeper?  Especially considering how much defensive organisation and marshalling our stopper would have to conduct throughout this game, which Dubravka is exceptional at.  Not to mention the number of attempts that would inevitably pepper our goal from City.

As we kicked off against the FA Cup holders, it was obvious we were going to attempt to contain them and prevent them from scoring.  Unfortunately, we sat SO deep and invited them onto us THAT much that it was just a matter of time before they broke the deadlock.  A daft moment from Fabian Schar handed Manchester City a penalty, which the quite brilliant Kevin De Bruyne put past Karl Darlow with ease.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this prompted a large number of Toon fans to switch their television sets off at this point, as it was looking completely hopeless that we’d get through to the next round from this situation.

The second half gradually showed more ambition from NUFC, which was probably the game plan from the start.  Dwight Gayle had that glorious opportunity from six yards out to put us level, but it just wasn’t to be, as Raheem Sterling curled in a splendid effort shortly after from outside the box to make it 2-0 to City.  And that was how it would end.  (Read Alex Hurst’s excellent match report here).

Fast forward to Wednesday and we faced Bournemouth down on the south coast in the Premier League.  I was a bit nervous about this one, coming off the back of that City game and playing a side who were desperate for points in their battle to avoid relegation.  Looking like we are now safe in a mid-table spot, I worried that our performance level might not be there and complacency may creep in.  Well, after kick off it didn’t take long for my fears to be allayed.

After Bournemouth gifted Dwight Gayle our opening goal with less than five minutes played, we never looked back and stormed to a romping 4-1 away victory.  Fair to say I didn’t see that coming.

There were pleasing performances all over the park from our lads, however Bournemouth looked like a bang average Championship side at best, who are severely lacking in confidence and appear to be resigned to relegation already.  There is of course still time for them to pull away from the drop zone, but on the showing they put in against Bruce’s Mags yesterday I can’t see it happening.

The fact that we looked so good was definitely assisted by Bournemouth’s mediocrity, but I think this was a case of a very poor team meeting a Newcastle United side on a good day.  We will not see a performance like that again from the Toon this season.  To hear Sky Sports’ commentator Ian Crocker use words to describe Newcastle as rampant, swarming forward and unstoppable was totally surreal.  It reminded me very much of the 4-0 win against Fulham at Craven Cottage in what was the last game of last season, and Rafa’s farewell to the Geordie faithful.

The standout performer against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium was of course our flying Frenchman Allan Saint-Maximin, notching a hattrick of assists for his teammates.  He never got going in the Cup game vs City, but he put that performance well and truly behind him in this one vs the Cherries.  I’ve written about Allan before (read here) so I’ll not delve into his abilities too much, but how bloody good is this kid!?

He has that ability to leave defenders for dead – see Bournemouth’s Adam Smith and David Brooks being well and truly skinned alive for his assist of Sean Longstaff’s goal.  He is getting better and better and I have no doubt that there will be interest in him from other Premier League and European sides in the summer transfer window.  Pray that Mike Ashley is long gone by that point and that we can hold on to our best talent, rather than selling on for profit, to the detriment of our playing squad but to the benefit of fat Mike’s bank balance.

A mention for Miguel Almiron’s goal, which was beautifully taken.  Is the lad starting to find that composure to apply a clinical finish at the end of his regular drives towards the opposition penalty area?  Let’s hope so, because the finish he showed at the Vitality Stadium yesterday was sublime – the ‘keeper was absolutely helpless to stop that.

Joelinton looked so much more confident playing in that wide/support role, instead of up front as the focal point.  It was like the pressure of being the goal scoring striker had been lifted from his shoulders and he looked to play more freely and was generally more comfortable when in possession of the ball.  Funny what happens when you play footballers in their correct position isn’t it?

Scoring goals has been our big problem this season, we all know that.  But credit to Steve Bruce for having a go at Bournemouth yesterday and fielding a team that was set up to play positive, dare I say attacking football.  We recognised they were low on confidence and vulnerable, and we fully exploited that.  (Read Si Campbell’s match report here).

Up next we have West Ham United, who are also down there in a relegation scrap, but coming off the back of a decent 3-2 win against London rivals Chelsea.  Once again we’ll have to avoid complacency and make sure we are at it from the kick off, because the Hammers will be looking to come away with at least a point from St.James’ Park.

I’m sure like many of you reading this, I am desperate to get back to St.James’ Park and am missing heading off to away games.  Despite the fact that all our games are televised for the rest of the season, you just can’t replace the feeling of being there, seeing and hearing the action right in front of you.  At least we can almost certainly now look forward to returning to stadia next season to continue watching NUFC compete in the Premier League.  Theoretically we could have new owners of the club, and even a new manager/head coach by then.  But let’s not get carried away eh?

by Rob Clothier | 2nd July 2020