Club Focus – Newcastle United – Harsh lesson for returning Magpies

After 449 days out of the Premier League Newcastle’s long awaited return quickly put into perspective the challenge facing them this season. A 3-0 defeat to Manchester United is not the most disheartening scoreline but the Magpies biggest worry will be the huge gulf in class between the two teams. The difference between the top of the Championship and the top end of the Premier League are almost worlds apart. Fortunately they will not be facing teams of Manchester United’s quality every game this season. The ones that are really going to matter are against the teams in the bottom half of the table.

After a bright start to the game by the Magpies the home side’s extra few gears began to tell and for the rest of the game they were left chasing shadows. Newcastle’s failure to hold on to possession proved costly as they struggled to exert much pressure in the opposition’s territory. As a result they spent long spells of the game inside their own half desperately defending. The first two of United’s goals could easily have been avoided by more alert defending outside the area. In truth, goalkeeper Steve Harper had few saves to make thanks to some ruthless finishing and at times some wasteful play in the final third.

Missing key players from last term such as Danny Simpson, Danny Guthrie and Peter Lovenkrands through injury were always going to prove to be big losses. One positive Newcastle can take from the game was that they never threw in the towel, unlike previous heavy defeats at Old Trafford. There appeared to be a desire to keep the score at a respectable level and a work ethic to keep going right up until the final whistle. Young striker Andy Carroll also showed promise playing as a lone target man and he did cause some problems for the opposition’s rearguard. But starved by a lack of service he only had one real scoring opportunity which he wasted.

Newcastle’s long pursuit of Hatem Ben Arfa shows no sign of coming to a swift agreement with all parties involved struggling to come to a conclusion for the deal. The Frenchman was on Tyneside over the weekend for talks but it is now believed he has been summoned back to Marseille for further discussions about his future. The player is effectively on strike after failing to report for training with the French champions following the international break. Speaking about his dissatisfaction the player said: “I will not return to La Commanderie (Marseille’s training ground). It’s over. I am ready to not play this season. I have my pride, my dignity. I am not a stop-gap. Over time, people will see that I was right. Just because we are paid, does not mean we are slaves. Newcastle have committed themselves to give Marseille what they were asking for, which is a loan with an option to buy me.” The player’s attitude must be a worry for Magpies Manager Chris Hughton and he has plenty of previous with fall-outs with his teammates and managers. There is no doubting his signing would be a boost in the final third but the potential is there to disunite what has become a strong team spirit in the dressing room.

Another potential cause for concern for Newcastle could be the lack of progress made in defender Steven Taylor’s contract talks. Taylor will miss the first few months of the season after dislocating his shoulder in a pre-season game at Carlisle. The 24 year-old has now entered the final year of his contract and the club will not want to lose him on a free transfer. There has been plenty of speculation over the academy graduate’s future ever since a training ground bust-up with striker Andy Carroll last season. The player’s agent Paul Stretford told the English media: “It would not be right to go into specific details as I don’t believe it would help the situation. Suffice to say matters are not progressing as I would like them to or would expect, but I am hopeful that there will be some movement in the near future.” With owner Mike Ashley looking to keep the wage budget at a sustainable level there is little chance of Taylor being offered a mega-bucks deal that he may be able to earn at another club.

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