This may sound a strange thing to say, but as a Newcastle United fan I can’t find it in myself to be too upset at the injury-time equaliser scored by Crystal Palace today which denied the Magpies their first win of the season. A win would’ve papered over the cracks. This was Newcastle’s worst performance of the season so far, but victory would’ve meant people forgot that. I’d rather they’d held out for the 3 points, but if they had it would’ve been unjustified. Palace were woeful but so were Newcastle. Two sides completely incapable of defending, and both also unable to take advantage of the other team’s weakness. Unable to defend, unable to attack effectively. That is a damning judgement as it’s a recipe for disaster for a football team, but it’s one I’m closer to making with each passing game.
We’re still only four games into the season now but I’ve seen nothing that makes me think things are improving. We provide no kind of service at all to an isolated target man, the identity of whom doesn’t matter as Pele at his peak wouldn’t have notched for us yet. We have players in the side who seem to be there as placeholders to provide some kind of structure. I’m all for having a good shape to the side but Sissoko and Gouffran offer precisely nothing when we have the ball. While Gouffran just seems to have given up on the concept of attacking, Sissoko isn’t technically good enough. He can’t pass, can’t control it, and if there’s anyone between him and the goal he can’t run with the ball either. I speak on this with some authority, I’ve seen both Wayne Fereday and Franz Carr play for Newcastle so I know a player who can run at a speed faster than he’s able to keep control of the ball when I see one. Gouffran of course is in the team because he helps his full back and it seems nothing else is required. The thought occurs to me, and many of you may curse me for uttering words that will sound like a 24-gun salute to the most perfect of visions in Pardew’s ears, but why not play two full backs on each flank in that case? I had hoped that the introduction of Siem de Jong would provide a bit more of a link with Riviere. Incidentally, every time the ball goes somewhere near Riviere the Neil Young song “Oh Lonesome Me” plays in my head. There’s a plaintive harmonica line in the song which is a fitting soundtrack to his evident need of a friend. Disappointingly, de Jong looked just as isolated. He too struggled to get in the game. Maybe he was short of fitness but that is clutching at straws in terms of hope for the coming weeks. The two of them on the same pitch but unable to connect with the rest of the team or each other can perhaps be best summed up by this Matthew Arnold poem:
YES! in the sea of life enisl’d,
With echoing straits between us thrown,
Dotting the shoreless watery wild,
We mortal millions live alone.
That’s not to say there weren’t bright spots. Janmaat was once again excellent, and Anita was impressive at right-back too when he replaced his fellow Dutchman there. Rolando Aarons made a huge difference to the team when he came on. I’m wary of relying on him too much over the coming months but it’d seem a no-brainer to pick him in a starting 11 soon.
As flat as we were today, we played in exactly the same way from first minute to 97th so far as I could make out. That’s the same way we’ve approached every game this season. I’d accepted we’d struggle to get a toehold in the game against Man City , and so it proved. You can also understand going into away games with a view to not throwing too much forward. Newcastle did that last weekend at Villa. But today, against a side who with all due respect will be aiming to survive the season, we looked to have no more cutting edge or ideas in the final third despite scoring the 3 goals.
So winning today would have been papering over the cracks alright. Maybe that third Palace goal will persuade Newcastle to sign a striker between now and Monday, not that another striker will solve all our problems. Up til now we’ve created chances without being able to put them away. Today there just weren’t the chances and that is a sign of a side going backwards, metaphorically and literally. But the cracks being papered over weren’t just with the team, they were with the manager. Alan Pardew decides how the team plays and whatever he’s telling them it isn’t working. He didn’t change formation or the strength of attacking outlook today despite that. He either thinks that the plan actually is working, that this is what he wants the team to be like, to scrape draws and the odd win and limp to his shining vision of 48 points, or he’s run out of ideas on how to change it. Either way, he is a busted flush as Newcastle manager. His West Ham career ended the same way, unable to score and refusing to play his most talented players seemingly to spite himself. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? He survived last season purely because we were safe from relegation very early on. The moment Mike Ashley gets a sniff that Newcastle are in danger of relegation Pardew will be gone and on this form that could be sooner than people think.