Well, how did I get myself into this?
With things how they are, I’ve completely lost track of what day it is, and the scattergun nature of the fixture list means games seem to be going off any day at any time.
So I was caught on the hop a bit when I was told the Newcastle team was out at five o clock for a game I was frankly dreading.
One look at the team set the tone for what was to come. Facing a side bottom of the league, winless all season and without a clean sheet in all competitions, Newcastle set out a disgracefully defensive unit, with a back five of out and out defenders and what appeared to be three defensive midfielders with Longstaff, Hayden and Sean Longstaff set to compete for space between the back five and the centre circle. Attacking options were left entirely to Fraser and Wilson in a completely gutless attempt to hand the initiative to Sheffield.
The time confusion meant that I missed the opening 15 minutes…but you quickly got an idea of how things were going.
The defensive unit was sitting deep and conceding the ball to the home side, allowing a side bereft of confidence to gradually build it up. Bruce’s master tactic of inviting pressure and relying on Karl Darlow to pull us out of the sh.t seemed on track, as the returning goalie saved well from McGoldrick and Bogle, while Sheffield applied the finishing of a side with two points from 17 games to allow a few more let offs.
The “plan” that Bruce was clearly thinking of was to soak this up then gradually introduce three from the plethora of attackers on the bench to pinch the game late on. After an appalling first half of giving the ball away and watching the opposition take potshots, this was miraculously still on course, if looking unlikely, before Bruce got some of the luck he frankly deserves.
Ryan Fraser was stupid in accumulating a pair of bookings in the five minutes before half time, no doubt. However, his silly kick outs at Fleck and McGoldrick were a clear sign of frustration at being starved of the ball or position to be able to exert any influence on the game. Understandable to an extent, but a let down for the team, and he took any forlorn hope of winning this game down the tunnel with him.
I felt more angry with Fraser for providing an excuse than for costing us the match. The pathetic way the team had sat back was the cause of the sending off, but the spin would be, that the sending off caused the backs to the wall approach.
Despite the need for some impetus, the same side was allowed to take the flak for the majority of the second half, until the inevitable breakthrough. Fernandez had produced a magnificent last ditch tackle to deny a certain goal as he marshalled the under pressure defence, but he fell foul of the VAR as a tussle with Billy Sharp saw the bounce up into his fist, resulting in one of those soft penalties for handball they’re after ruining the game with. I would echo any grumbles about this award, and the failure to send Sharp off for a subsequent brutal clash with Schar, but no one could legitimately claim this was not a deserved lead for the side who had dared to play football.
Bruce of course sprang into action, sending on Ritchie, then Carroll, then Murphy, as we decided to try and get in their half in the closing minutes. Murphy hit a decent injury time free kick straight at Ramsdale but little else occurred. Sheffield United had their first win after picking up two points in the previous 20 PL games, because of course they did.
So, Mr Savage, Sutton et al, here’s what the problem is, from someone who has watched this team consistently and not just in snatches and highlights. It was obvious from both the game itself and the season so far that Sheffield United struggled with pace and if any one of Murphy, Almiron or Gayle had joined the front two from the start, we would have had them on toast on the break. The manager was unwilling to throw such caution to the wind, loathe to sacrifice his trio of functional central midfielders that basically acted as an additional trio of centre halves in front of the trio of centre halves. One of these players (Longstaff) has deteriorated so badly during this management’s tenure, it makes you worry about what exactly they’re doing in training.
This result is a low point and no mistake, but not an aberration, as may be implied on some media outlets. The cowardly approach to a team in such a bad spot is consistent with the underperformances against Leeds, Fulham and Brentford recently, where vital points were dropped that see us now facing a relegation battle with no cup dream to offset it against.
This team is no longer the underwhelmed squad Rafa Benitez had to work alchemy with, using £5 million worth of Joselu up front and a Championship midfield. When Benitez was allowed to spend, the half season he had Almiron saw Newcastle in top six form. Bruce has had the benefit of actual funds spent on Wilson, a proven Premier League striker, as well as the incoming season of Saint-Maximin, Lewis, Krafth and the mass spending wasted on Joelinton, adding £100 million to an already solid team. They should have kicked on from what was inherited in 2019, with an attack also swelled by the additions of Carroll and Fraser utilised in a far more aggressive manner than just throwing the dice in the last ten minutes, usually when behind.
This incoherence is, of course, standard practice for the Mike Ashley era. However, many fans will still hold out hope for this soon coming to a spectacular end, as improved relations in the gulf and ongoing court arbitration could indicate a brighter future for the club. This could all be jeopardised by yet another avoidable relegation. This season is worryingly reminiscent of the McClaren debacle, as a coach hopelessly out of his depth failed to utilise the decent squad at his disposal and was allowed to continue until the situation was close to unsalvageable.
I am utterly unable to look forward to anything involving Newcastle United at the minute. After we lose again at Arsenal next Monday, we start running into fixtures that should and can be won. While machinations continue in the background, we can only hope that enough can be scrambled together to make us less worse than three other teams, to allow for the possibility of something better. Doling out points to sides that until now, appeared certainties for those roles, is not an advisable tactic for achieving this.
Sorry, but something needs to change, put that in your radio programme.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Sheffield United 1 Newcastle 0 – Tuesday 12 January 6pm
Ryan Fraser 45 red card
Sharp 73 pen
(Half-time stats in brackets)
Possession was Sheff Utd 66% (61%) Newcastle 34% (39%)
Total shots were Sheff Utd 17 (10) Newcastle 7 (3)
Shots on target Sheff Utd 4 (2) Newcastle 3 (0)
Corners were Sheff Utd 5 (4) Newcastle 2 (1)
Referee: Andy Madley
Darlow, Yedlin (Murphy 84), Schar, Fernandez (Carroll 77), Clark, Dummett (Ritchie 74), Hayden, Hendrick, Sean Longstaff, Fraser, Wilson
Dubravka, M Longstaff, Joelinton, Gayle, Almiron, Anderson
(Former top referee rules on these Sheffield United v Newcastle controversial incidents – Read HERE)
(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Sheffield United 1 Newcastle 0 – Read HERE)
(Jamie Redknapp makes it look like Harry is the credible one in his family – Read HERE)
(Steve Bruce refuses to resign after ultimate embarrassing night at Bramall Lane – Read HERE)
(Sheffield United 1 Newcastle 0 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)
(Sheffield United 1 Newcastle 0 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Tuesday’s defeat – Read HERE)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf