Mainz 05 1 Newcastle United 0, 18/Jul/22, Grenzlandstadion, Austria. 

In what looked like tropical conditions, Newcastle faced the eighth best team in last season’s Bundesliga – Mainz. The black and whites opened the first half with the majority of possession whilst not really creating much. The most interesting point to note I think is the energy and work rate as we really look to push and press higher up the field. Whilst it didn’t really create any openings, it’s great to see Newcastle on the front foot.

The Germans in turn, looked a threat from crosses and on the turnover of possession but struggled to keep the ball against our high press at other times. Dubravka however, had little to do in the opening half of the match really, bar saving one looping deflected shot. Their only shot on target of the half.

One moment in this first half really summed up what the new Newcastle, under Howe, is really all about. A goal kick played short, and out from the back through midfield found a lovely interchange between the Brazilians before Bruno sprayed a ball out to Trippier. The Englishman in turn crossed into the box and his cross was the recycled once more from the far side. Whilst it didn’t lead to much, what came before was so good to watch. This is what we can expect looking ahead and the changes Howe is making are having a visible impact.

It’s clear too, why Botman was so sought after. He’s quick, strong and so confident with the ball at his feet. It was he who started that move off, and this is hopefully a sign of what’s to come. And it’s great to watch but also to see the progression we are making is encouraging. In a week where Steve Bruce’s team conceded the funniest goal of pre season, the change in style and fortunes is stark.

Whilst the Germans made changes to give some younger players some minutes at the interval, we stuck with the same 11 which finished the half. As battle resumed, the Germans spurned the best chance of the match with a clever pull back which was ultimately blocked. This highlights the remaining need to keep working on the system and style of play so that spaces aren’t left behind when we do push and press. This fact was confirmed about an hour in when Mainz scored to take the lead following a turnover and a tidy finish on the break.

Soon after the goal NUFC put out a whole new XI and quickly we should have been level. The new attacking players offering a threat to demonstrate what we had been missing in the opening hour, but Murphy missed his kick at a key time. It was the best chance we got. As we toiled to get back into the game, a few half chances were all we could produce.

Whilst the result doesn’t matter too much, there are a few key things to take from this, even if it was just a pre season game. I thought Longstaff looked industrious and effective when surrounded by his Brazilian colleagues. Botman is the real deal and Wood is still shite. Finally, Elliot Anderson is a great prospect. One more year on loan somewhere and he can come back and fight for a first team place in 12 months.

That leads me to the big point. If we are to make notable progress this season, a wide player and a striker are a must before the season starts. All this possession needs to carry a real threat to go with it. Whilst Wilson and others are capable of carrying that, our alternative options aren’t particularly effective.

We need a combination of what we have out wide. Miggy’s work rate and Maxi’s ability, for example. Wood’s durability and Wilson’s ability.

The performance was good and enjoyable to watch. And considering where we were this time last year, that is important. There are still areas for improvement though, and Howe will know that having seen what we are promising to produce.

Dai Rees – @colemans_dream