After the debacle against Spurs, the fans were hoping that Newcastle would get their act together against fellow promoted side Huddersfield. How wrong we were…
Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t as bad as we were the last time we were in the Premier League, but we also weren’t very good still, either.
There is a reason we hold the unfortunate record of having failed to win in our last 13 Premier League away games, and judging by today’s performance, that statistic is just going to get larger and larger.
In terms of structure and tactics, it was very clear that we set up like we had against Tottenham a week earlier; a rigid defensive unit that was hard to break down.
Against Spurs that proved successful, up until Shelvey’s moment of madness. Against Huddersfield, it was less effective.
The home side, clearly desperate to put a performance in on their first home game in the Premier League for 50 or so years, played with pace and width and within the first half-hour we saw cross after cross come barrelling into the box towards their target man, Mounié.
I know that given the loss of Yedlin in pre-season, and both Dummett and Lejeune early against Spurs, we were going to have a tough task defensively. It was a makeshift back four, but even so, these are supposed to be Premier League players and yet the defending was Sunday League at best at times.
Player after player in blue and white drifted past our wide players, and we were just lucky that they failed to have an end product.
Meanwhile, going forwards we seemed to have not gotten off the team bus. Atsu, who was brilliant against Spurs, was quiet and Perez was once again too easily muscled off the ball by a physical Huddersfield side.
The most concerning though, and it was an issue that surfaced against Spurs as it did at the end of last season, was Dwight Gayle. For the entire time he spent on the pitch against David Wagner’s side he was utterly pointless.
I know he scored some key goals for us last season, and the fans respect him for that, but I quite honestly would scrap him immediately. Ever since his hamstring problem last season he can’t play football anymore.
He is too scared to run, and when he does, he immediately succumbs to his imaginary, psychological injury. He doesn’t have a hamstring problem anymore, but his brain continues to think it does. As such, he is permanently static up front.
I know Benitez doesn’t trust Mitrovic, it’s why he doesn’t play despite being a fan favourite, but we really needed him against Huddersfield.
We were playing route one football anyway, and he is actually a target man to aim for – not that Elliot’s kicks went anywhere but the touchline for ninety minutes – rather than aiming for a static, five foot something Gayle that is never in his lifetime going to win a header against the Huddersfield back four, even if he actually had wanted to be playing.
Worst of all, we actually had the best chance of the first half, with a rare glimmer of quality coming from a largely ineffectual Matt Ritchie. It was a magnificent attempt, and only denied by an equally impressive save by the Huddersfield keeper Lössl.
Aside from that though, we offered up nothing, and so it was little surprise when Aaron Mooy, who is a great signing for the Terriers, waltzed through a non-existent defence and curled in a tidy finish. For all his faults in the game with distribution, Elliot couldn’t be blamed for that one.
The defenders however, they certainly could. Mooy, who we all knew was Huddersfield’s main threat in midfield, was allowed far too much room to walk in and play a neat one-two with another Huddersfield attacker before his goal.
Worse still, as the replays of the goal showed, the Newcastle players – Clark and Manquillo, I believe it was – showed so much passion and desire for their team that rather than show some heart and desire for your club and try and block the shot, they instead flinched away. I understand that it might hurt to be struck by the ball, but sometimes you have to take a hit for your team.
But even the fact Manquillo, who had just been beaten by the one-two, was the only player trying to close Mooy down properly, shows how little the desire the Newcastle defenders showed. Nobody was rushing out to charge down the shot. They just seemed happy to accept it was going in.
It seems to be a real problem with the squad at the moment, that they don’t seem to have pride in wearing the black and white shirt. At a club like Newcastle, you need that passion for the club every time you represent them, and yet it seems instead we have far too many people just there to saunter about for ninety minutes and collect a paycheck at the end of the week.
The only positive to really come out of the game was probably the performance of Joselu. Brought on in the 50th minute, when Benitez finally realised how useless and ineffectual Dwight Gayle was being on the pitch, he actually showed a bit of desire and commitment.
He drove at the Huddersfield defence and attempted a few, while weak and easily held, shots on goal – more than anyone else had been doing. He must have touched the ball more than Gayle had in 50 minutes in his first five.
I genuinely hope he keeps it up and performs well, not only because we’re in desperate need of a striker, but also because I’m tired of Gayle’s lack of effort. It’s not a new problem, it just seems to be a problem most fans and the manager want to ignore.