On Saturday, Newcastle were bitterly disappointing in their 0-1 defeat to Blackburn, the usual high fliers didn’t perform to the standards which have been set out by United so far this season. However, Saturday’s result doesn’t mean that the Magpies should panic despite the clear problems which were highlighted.
The signs were there for all to see from the first minute on Saturday, Newcastle looked quite simply sluggish with silly mistakes exposing weaknesses which Owen Coyle’s side would later feed on. For the first twenty minutes there was a clear sense of complicency which was echoed across the stands as well as on the pitch. Quite simply, the atmosphere at St. James’ on Saturday was flat and oddly eerie as United played out the early minutes in almost complete silence. The fans simply, just weren’t on their game on Saturday the atmosphere often turned negative as the Magpies faltered on the pitch, it certainly wasn’t the type of electric atmosphere which has made St. James’ Park world renowned and it clearly affected the players who made silly mistakes throughout. The overall analysis of this is that if the atmosphere is flat then you cannot expect anything more than the performances on the pitch to be as well and quite simply St. James’ hasn’t been at it’s usual noise levels for sometime now. However, the atmosphere wasn’t the biggest problem at St. James’ on Saturday and overall it would be unfair to target the blame after yet another full house on a cold November’s day against a less than exciting opposition.
A more clear problem was Rafa’s decision to start Mitrovic over the Championship’s top goalscorer, Dwight Gayle. Although the rotation system has worked relatively well so far this season, it did feel as though Newcastle were fielding a weaker side perhaps with an eye on the midweek trip to Hull in the EFL Cup, an allegation which Benitez denies. This is perhaps the only fault in Rafael Benitez’s management of Newcastle which has so far been faultless and this has perhaps been the only main frustration with the Benitez era. Mitrovic didn’t reward Benitez after placing his faith in him, the Serbian appeared to be off the pace with a truly sluggish performance which highlighted his weaknesses with the technical side to his game. This is definitely an area in which Gayle has the upper hand over Mitrovic and perhaps can add more to the team because of it. This was clear when Gayle came on with 6 minutes with him being involved with many attacking moves as well as nearly finding an equaliser if it wasn’t for a devastatingly poor finish. However, Mitrovic wasn’t the only United player to turn in a poor performance, the central two of Isaac Hayden and Jonjo Shelvey weren’t up to usual standards with them regularly finding themselves frustrated. Shelvey, in particularly disappointed, his usual exceptional passing just didn’t come off as well as this he often found himself on the end of poor touches in an uncharacteristic display from the usually stellar Shelvey. Christian Atsu didn’t have the performance of his life also, he often showed the skills but there wasn’t enough substance behind the tricks and to provide enough opportunities to Mitrovic and Perez who went missing often throughout the game.
However there was positives which came from the game, Karl Darlow put in an excellent performance in the net for Newcastle, pulling off some excellent acrobatic saves in the early stages of the game. Once again, United were let down by yet another poor refereeing performance which seemingly is becoming a consistent feature of life in the second tier. Seemingly unwilling to allow the game to progress giving free kicks when surely advantages would better as well as incorrectly giving a corner to Blackburn which began a period of pressure leading to their goal.
To conclude, Newcastle can’t let this result get them down, Rafa Benitez needs to pick up his side for Tuesday’s trip to Hull which will be his biggest in charge of United. Hopefully they will, Newcastle deserve some success and the thought of a Semi Final at St. James’ is simply a mouthwatering prospect and will undoubtedly show how far United have came under Benitez.