Newcastle United 2 - West Bromwich Albion 1
Be honest who saw that starting 11/ system and thought we had any chance of getting anything?
Grant is woefully out of form and confidence, if indeed there is a player even in there. How is he still starting games? Take him out of the firing line. Phillips at left wing back in front of poor O’Shea on his wrong foot too, with Gibbs on the bench. Krovi and Sawyers in flat midfield 3 together?
And then the first 20 seconds were embarrassing. A terrible over hit pass from kick off back to O’Shea who could only swing and scuff it, all our players charged up thinking it was going further and wider, lose the ball, long pass up the pitch, Ivanovic was weak (although I can’t believe VAR didn’t see the two hands push on him) and then us charging to the ball and leaving a man open to score. Criminal.
It could’ve been worse as we were stunned for 15 minutes but Newcastle wasted really good opportunities.
The rest of the half was a bit more even but I’d say only through the sheer desire and determination of Gallagher, Furlong, Robinson and maybe O’Shea to just compete allowed the others to get on the ball. Despite being pretty poor we might even have equalised and with a few changes at half time I thought we’d still have a chance of winning it.
I know it’s largely irrelevant but in that first half I saw Robinson get clattered from behind and get nothing, lose a throw in decision that was blatantly ours, see Lewis get away with a push in the face that was worse than Pereira’s red, hold back Furlong for a penalty that could’ve been given, block Gallagher’s shot with his arm over his face that I don’t think is a penalty in a million years but of the sort that has been given against us this season and then watched a Newcastle defender clearly head the ball out from our corner and get a goal kick.
I thought Gibbs at half time for Grant was obvious and I was grateful it happened but Austin from nowhere (not scoring in the reserves) when Robinson had actually done okay with pathetic service was bizarre - if he’s not injured then it’s a ridiculous call.
And when Phillips did well in the left wing (regular readers know I’d have been playing him here to find his best form) Furlong showed unbelievable desire to lunge across his marker and volley home - when you watch it slowed down at 5 metres away it still looks like he’d never be able to get there, just incredible!
We were then the better team for a spell but didn’t make the most of it. Austin, benefiting from having a man up with him and not being isolated, doing a decent job but he had to play Gallagher in for a great chance and instead went for goal himself and wasted it. The other was a great move from which Gibbs pulled back a cross instead of firing it across the 6 yard line, although I guess he knew Austin would never get there.
Newcastle went 3 up front which swung it back their way but we looked okay.
With 10 to go Gallagher inexplicably made way for Grosicki (Sawyers, Krovi or Phillips had to be the options there) and our Pole’s first action was to get nowhere near Murphy, standing 10 yards away with his arms behind his back instead of charging the ball. Gayle dispatched the cross brilliantly as he does but Ivanovic and O’Shea were nowhere.
That flattened us and apart from the embarrassment of seeing an aged Invanovic get nowhere near anything as a makeshift striker, the game crawled to a close.
I really like Slaven Bilic but this is over - it’s like the Steve Clarke losing the plot games with the subtext to all these tactical decisions and selections. I don’t think this squad is good enough to stay up and I don’t really care for the league or VAR but this is naive stuff that could set careers of some very promising players on a downward path. There are a number of managers who would make us harder to beat without making us criminally dull or anti-football and on the positive side, the recruitment we’ve done will give us a great chance next season of promotion if we keep them together and don’t drain them all of confidence by being walloped every week.
You can't say that it isn't interesting
Just when you thought it couldn't get any weirder, Bilic pulls yet more rabbits out of his bag of tricks. O'Shea, often deployed as a right-back, came in on the left side of the back three; Phillips, the right-winger being asked to do a left-back's job stays where he was, whilst the midfield diamond from the last game got cut and polished, with two strikers now appearing on one of its faces. As the first half progressed, you could almost discern a kind of 5122, with Sawyers lying deep and Gallagher and Krovi ahead of him, but, before our shape could become apparent, we got to witness the fastest divisional goal of the season so far: and we didn't score it.
There was something echoing the grid-iron game as Albion, in kicking-off, lined up in with seven players strung across the halfway line, with the back three behind: then, from the kick off, we witnessed a "quarterback" centre-back deliver a kind of hail-mary-ish hoof in the direction of the forward-right corner, as all seven of the "offensive line" ran forwards in a line. Given that the likely recipients of the long ball would have been Furlong or Krovi, it didn't come as much of a surprise to see us concede possession after just 10 seconds, but, for me, what happened in the next ten seconds tells you all you need to know about where it's been going so wrong, so often, so far.
Newcastle lump the ball into the space down our right flank. Ivanovic, Albion's "marquee" signing, gets pulled out of his old-experienced-central-centre-back position to fill the space and clear the danger but only ends up deflecting the ball back inside whilst falling to the floor, after which two quick passes are all it takes to see Newcastle move the ball across from our vacant right-back area into our vacant left-back area, where Almiron has all the time and space he needs to caress the ball back across a horribly exposed SJ.
You might be able to claim that a player carrying the bulk and experience that Ivanovic brings into the game should not have been outmuscled by the Newcastle player he was and/or could have done a better job of trying to make it look as though he'd been fouled but he simply ended up lying on ground watching Phillips indulge in some ball-watching as he abdicated his left-back duties to give Almiron the freedom of the left side of our box. It would not be the first time that the Serbian would adopt the "if I lie on the ground, it'll be harder to get around me" approach to defending either.
The Albion were a bit less gung-ho with their second restart within the first minute of the game, and it certainly settled down to the point where further goals seemed unlikely, in that they looked a bit more cohesive at the back, though with the two strikers never really looking likely to strike, unless you count Grant, a player you might have thought Phillips or Krovinovic might be delivering pin-point free-kicks towards, given the chance to blast a free-kick high into the empty stands around the 20-minute mark. Presumably, in all the time we were tracking him at Huddersfield, he must have hit enough from all angles to see him at the head of the queue for speculative free-kicks?
I can't help feeling that Bilic's bizarre bag must empty out soon, given how much our manager has already pulled from it, but, from its capacious depths came the double half-time substitution that saw both starting strikers taken off, and the introduction of a left-back, Gibbs, to our left-side and pushed Phillips up alongside Austin.
I think it says a lot when the introduction of a left-back to the left-side seems somehow worthy of a second glance just in case you have missed something.
Whatever was supposed to happen though didn't, with Phillips, perhaps with his mind still lingering out wide on the left, delivering a cross towards... no, not striker Austin but right-back Furlong who, once again, came flying in off his right flank to get ahead of a ball-watching defender and look more like a goal-poaching striker than anyone else at the club since, well, Dwight Gayle.
Twenty minutes later though, the game turned again, with Gayle, the marquee signing Albion couldn't afford, coming off the bench to mark his first appearance of the season with an almost immediate impact, only to see his header, from somewhere deep in amongst our back three, denied by Phillips, now defending as a striker on the goal-line at set pieces.
It's tempting to say that I couldn't quite see why Bilic decided to bring on forgotten right-winger Grosicki to play some kind of left sided role, when replacing Gallagher, but what's the point in trying to make sense of it all this season, when Bilic seems more than capable of confounding any accepted norms with no sign of the bottom of the bizarre bag being reached.
Within a minute though, whether that substitution made any sense or not, either in looking to win or looking to hold on, no longer mattered, as Gayle, up against Ivanonvic as a cross came over, got up off the ground, whilst the latter remained rooted to it, and powered a header into the top corner. It was almost scripted wasn't it: the player that everyone wanted up against the player no-one could see any need for.
So, what's a manager to do when an old, slow, experienced central defender fails to do much for both goals that have been scored against your back three? Well, you stick them up-front, and play with a token back-four for the last few minutes, don't you, and so we did.
Suffice it to say that Ivanovic looked as out of the game when near the opposition's goal as he had done when near his own, and for me that's the real problem this season. Bilic can't not play this vastly experienced player, but he can't risk playing him in a back four, and so he has to put two other centre-backs alongside him, and we feel the lack of the extra man all the way through, and out to the sides of, the rest of the formations, no matter how many out-of-position ways he find to put the rest of the squad out onto the field in.
Given the kick-off time, I hadn't been expecting to see this one all the way through, so cheers to Hallam for letting me drown my sorrows well into the wee small hours as he closed up. What I did see, in the early game was a frightening glimpse of what may be to come in the derby games, as the ten-man seals edged out the ten-man tatters, via a very dubious penalty, in a game which I think probably saw all twenty outfield players cautioned.
Anyone want to hazard a guess at how Bilic will line them up against Man City, or merely have a roll of a squad-sized dice?
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