We’ve not got Bruno in the middle…
They say a week is a long time in football, but so is five days. Three weeks is going to feel like a year and tonight ninety minutes of football felt like it was always ultimately going to be a draw. New boy Anthony Gordon was on the bench, and Joelinton filled in the Brazilian hole in the middle of the park. Allan Saint-Maximin was back wide on the left. Tyneside was nervous because it felt a bit after the Lord Mayor’s Show but also because it was a big test without number thirty nine.
For the second successive home game the away side asked us to attack towards the Gallowgate first half; for the second time it backfired. First, good pace down the flank from Miguel Almirón saw a cut back to Joe Willock who powered one into the net. I don’t know how I could see it was out from forty yards away and the linesman couldn’t, but VAR did and the Irons seemed to think they’d had a successful reprieve.
Ninety seconds later, Sean Longstaff released Callum Wilson, who does what he always does against this side and scored. At this point it looked like we could blow them away. Fifteen minutes of continuous possession but the ball never really looking likely to be a second goal.
Then it was almost like West Ham woke up, or also that Declan Rice realised Joe Willock was nominally tracking him. The physical differences between the two players were very evident, and the play of the game switched and suddenly the England midfielder was dictating much of the game.
The other thing that changed was that Coufal suddenly realised Saint Max was a passenger in the game. Eddie Howe has not wanted to include the player in his starting eleven for some time now. Some of his keenest supporters, but also any Newcastle fan, wanted to see him make a success of the opportunity these three games afforded him. Unfortunately the player spent the first half looking disinterested, unengaged, and quite frankly giving the manager a mountain of more reasons not to pick him.
He took up strange positions, seemed determined to either do too much or, at one point, just pass the ball to the opposition and allow Joe Willock to have to foul as the ball was so far away from him. This was the sort of performance in the first half that made people in France think we were mad to pay the fee we did. The crowd by the end of the half were clearly as frustrated with him, as the manager was and a number of people around us were calling for him to be subbed at half time. There was a meek thirty seconds of chanting his name from the corner, but even that appeared forlorn.
The goal they scored was similar to one we conceded away at Spurs. It was scrappy and it was bundled in, but you’d be hard pressed to say on the balance of play that West Ham didn’t deserve the equaliser. They spent the rest of the first half on the front foot and, when a late free kick was given to them, a better delivery might have seen them take the lead.
The second half saw Nick Pope largely as a bystander. He was doing squats outside his own box to keep himself interested for part of it, and throughout they were keen to play on the counter. A chance fell to Saint Max (who actually appeared to try second half) but it was blocked before it could get near the goal and he hung his head. The chance of redemption in this game had been and gone, the applause as he departed clearly aimed at the player coming on.
Gordon made a difference and was looking to play nice touches around and about the box. If he came on with a point to prove, having sat out Everton’s defeat to the same side a fortnight ago, then he certainly performed well enough to show the Scouse Mackems what they were missing.
One clever ball around the corner sent Wilson in and he should have scored, allowing the defender to get back. His movement, inside and out, allowed Dan Burn to get forward more often but also showed that he can open the door if given the space to work in. Twice he looked to have unlocked the defence and towards the end a ricochet saw the ball go out for a goal kick as he charged down the wing.
Sean Longstaff had another good game at the base of midfield and was getting forward more often, while Joelinton blotted his copybook with one absolutely outrageous dive. Precisely the type of which our new number eight has been criticised for before.
Wilson missed a header from a free kick – one he should have done better with – but we were the better side and looked the far more likely to go on and win, with Wilson also taking one chance away from Schär who looked to be in. Frustration reigned.
Draws are becoming a habit, but it’s better than getting beat. On to Bournemouth.
Stephen Ord @smord84