Hapless Toon are masters of self-sabotage
STILL we wait to see what Eddie Howe’s Newcastle team really look like. On Saturday they lost tamely at Arsenal after their new manager spent the week isolated from the training pitch with Covid. Here at a sodden St James’ Park they played 81 minutes with only 10 men.
So excuses are there if anybody wants to take them.
Equally, there remains an indisputable truth. Poor teams — those that get relegated — make mistakes and make them often.
They make life harder for themselves than it really needs to be. They pass up opportunities. That is what this Newcastle team do and it’s a habit that seems to be so deeply ingrained it will be a challenge for Howe to even get to its roots.
On this occasion, error one was quickly followed by error two and that saw Newcastle go a man down before the applause that greeted Howe’s first night on a
Tyneside touchline had properly died down.
Ciaran Clark, Newcastle’s 32-year-old defender, first erred by presenting the ball needlessly to Norwich striker Teemu Pukki.
Then, a heartbeat later, he hauled him down as he moved to run clear. It was the clearest red card and a night that had appeared to present Newcastle with the opportunity to claim their first win of the season had suddenly morphed into an exercise in damage limitation.
But that was not how this turned out. So bad were Norwich — so lacking in ideas and intensity and purpose — that Newcastle somehow managed to engineer themselves into a position to win the game.
Norwich are also playing for a new manager, Dean Smith. The former Aston Villa coach had cajoled them to a win and a draw in his first two games. There appeared to have been a bit of a bounce.
Here, though, they were shocking. Smith, animated on the touchline, at times seemed rather baffled by what he was seeing. Rarely if ever had a Premier League side played for so long with an extra man and failed so dismally to make it appear obvious.
So, yes, Newcastle led here. After a first half forgettable save for Clark’s act of self-sabotage, Howe’s team were better after the break. Better than they had been and better than Norwich.
And when a header from substitute Federico Fernandez struck the raised arm of Billy Gilmour just after the hour mark, a penalty was awarded following a look by referee Andy Madley at the VAR screen.
It was the right decision. Gilmour had jumped as if hailing a passing bus and only the young Scot will know why.
Norwich goalkeeper Tim Krul — once of these parts — has a reputation for those situations and did his best to save his team. A little bit of gamesmanship was followed by a strong arm applied to Callum Wilson’s low penalty but the ball deflected up and not out and when it struck the crossbar it came down to land well behind the line.
For the home supporters — who rarely fail their side — there was finally something to cling to. Not only were their team ahead but they deserved to be.
Indeed, for a while they looked comfortable. Norwich were impotent and idle and had Wilson’s cross-shot crept in at the far post, the feeling at full time would have been quite different.
We would have had to take the poverty of the opposition into account, but still we would have been talking about a victory against the odds, a win to galvanise a team and energise a whole season.
But no — it did not end that way. Newcastle did not remotely look like losing their lead until they actually did so but they lost it all the same. Again there was a whiff of negligence about the whole thing.
The cross from the Norwich right was not dangerous or particularly well directed with 10 minutes remaining.
Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka was not under pressure as he left his line to deal with it. But for some reason the Slovakian chose to push at the ball rather than catch it and when it was returned into the centre by Norwich substitute Dimitris Giannoulis, Pukki was able to lash it high into the net with his
left foot. it was a stunning strike by the Finn. Pukki lit up the Premier League early in the season when Norwich were last here. his quality is known and this was one of his purest strikes. From the laces, as they say.
But he simply should not have had the opportunity. Just like another substitute Pierre LeesMelou should have not been able to run clear in injury time. This time the error was Fabian schar’s and he was rescued by his goalkeeper’s ankle, the ball deflecting over the bar after Lees-Melou tried to slide it past him.
No disaster, then, for either side but nothing to move either of them forward. With that in mind, the same question remains: are there three worse teams in the Premier League than these two? On this evidence, there are not.
it is impossible to over-estimate how bad Norwich were. As for Newcastle, their December fixture list is so daunting that it feels as though they simply must win here against Burnley on saturday.
Then again, that is exactly that we said before this game. howe must get to grips with this team very quickly indeed.