As ever, it was great to be back amongst friends for the start of another season with Newcastle United. There is always something to be said for the walk from town to St James’ Park, nods to familiar faces, hand-shakes with pals just like afterwards it was good to chew the fat about what we’d just seen, compare views on what’s gone down at United over the summer and speculate at what the season has to come. The social aspect of following any club is part of the attraction of our supporting life but there can’t be many clubs like Newcastle United for connecting so many people across a city-region and creating a whole network of support based around the club and the city centre. Home games are more than going to the match, they are a day out, a social event.
So then, what to make of our first proper game under Steve McClaren? I thought we did okay. Southampton’s Europa League exertions clearly gave them an edge in their fitness and although I had us as the better side overall, particularly in the first half we tired towards the end and I felt both managers were content to share the points. It was good McClaren didn’t mark his first proper game at St James’ Park with a defeat. Mission accomplished in that regard.
The post-match chatter amongst my coterie of Mags was how well the new lads had done and I certainly won’t contradict that view. I liked the look of Chancel Mbemba. He was strong, quick and aware. Hopefully he’ll compliment Colo and offer a physicality we have often lacked at the back. It’s very early days but Georginio Wijnaldum looks a very handy player and it was great he got off the mark in front of The Gallowgate with a picture book goal, courtesy of an Obertan cross that was delivered to perfection. We didn’t get much of a look of Aleksandar Mitrovic but I think its fair to say, he’s no shrinking violet. I think I’m going to enjoy watching this lad at United, though I do anticipate one or two er, well incidents with him. I think he’s going to relish bashing centre-halves about. We’ve not had that for a while.
I do think however, more needs to be done in the transfer market. At the end of last season the expectation was we’d bring six players in for the first team and so far we’ve achieved 50% of that target. Our name has been continually linked with Austin and Thauvin as well as a few others who I’ll confess I don’t know much about. United can do itself a lot of good if it completes that business and even a confirmed sceptic such as myself will acknowledge we’ve turned a corner if that is delivered. If not, it’s difficult to see us realising any target of finishing in the top eight and having a crack at the cups.
I wouldn’t disagree with those who believe we should bring a left-back in. We’ve not looked particularly convincing down there since Enrique left for Liverpool and I’ll confess to never being a big fan of Santon. Both Haidara and Dummett have potential in that position but were we to bring an equal of Janmaat down the left, then that would give us a balance and foundation that could take us onto another level. I’m not holding my breath.
I was pleased to see De Jong on the pitch. If this lad can stay fit, he could be a big asset for us but that’s a big if.
I was pleased to see us doing more pressing and winning more tackles. There seemed a bit more commitment and that’s obviously a massive difference given how many games we came away from last season questioning players’ integrity.
There were some familiar weaknesses however. We still don’t seem to be able to take a corner very well and conceding two headers is likely to have been noted by every PL club analyst in the country. Expect our box to be peppered with crosses until we can sort this out. Obviously we will have to deal with the crosses to the box but we’re also going to have to stop the delivery as well. That seemed a bit too easy today and they were Southampton’s only way of getting at us. That is something I’d hope McClaren and his coaching team will be able to address this season. Likewise the team needs to stay behind after school and practice corners and dead-balls until we have it cracked.
This weekend sees us to travel to Wales for the game against the excellent Swansea City. That is a tough assignment because Gary Monk is emerging as a very accomplished manager with a team with an established pattern of play which served them well last season and on the opening day away to Chelsea where they gained a credible draw. Anything down there will be a bonus.
Off the park, the club is still baffling in its relations with the media. This whole media partners’ nonsense with The Mirror has antagonised the rest of the media and I’ll be honest, I simply laughed when I’d heard United had banned Channel 4 from SJP because one of their journalists asked about banning journalists. It’s almost Pythonesque. I can’t imagine C4 losing much sleep about being banned by United. What is the point of that?
How is this helping Steve McClaren? I have my doubts about McClaren but he should be given a chance – be that with sufficient investment but also creating the right environment around him with the media. This unending belligerence needs to stop. This is a good piece on the C4 website about the whole carry-on – click here
It was interesting to read Pardew’s interview with The Telegraph last week! To describe him receiving a vanilla coverage from The Telegraph would be an understatement. I think we all know if Pardew was chocolate he’d lick himself to death but his self-confidence tips over into delusion at times. Some of the things Jason Birt (The Telegraph) missed might have included his lamentable record in Cup competitions not to mention him holding the record for the worst run of derby results in history. Since 1892 if you will. There was the small matter of dedicating wins to Mike Ashley but abrogating responsibility for defeats onto supporters for variously being too enthusiastic, not enthusiastic enough, conniving in the banning of journalists and failing to challenge Ashley on investment as any manager with a set of balls on him might have done. He was Ashley’s bitch and when the opportunity came for him to double his money, he was off. Interestingly, he confirmed what we have been saying here for five years – the club brings in players to put them in the shop window and sell on at a profit and neglects to build a team that can improve and which can compete to the greatest of its ability i.e. the whole competitiveness of sport. But Pardew put up with that for five years, frequently told us that wasn’t happening, when clearly it was and he complicit in a process that degenerated our football club. Then there is the question of his conduct in regards to Jonas. All areas The Telegraph failed to investigate when discussing his time at United. He’s not a bloke I have a lot of respect for as a man or a manager.
You can have a read of the article here if you missed it.
In summary, this was a steady if unspectacular start. The whole thing will need time and McClaren should be afforded that. But he also needs more players of a better standard to those that almost got the club relegated last season. The biggest responsibilities at SJP rest with Messrs Charnley and Carr. Get to work.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …