Saturday’s crunch tie with fellow strugglers Bournemouth is arguably the measuring stick for Newcastle thus far, the fixture that could make or break them. Though the loss to Sunderland was absolutely gutting for the club, the game was turned on its head in a matter of seconds through some of course some poor defending, but a hint of bad luck.
The penalty appeal on Lee Cattermole and the break that followed allowed Steven Fletcher to pounce on some lax defensive work to win the home side a spot-kick could easily have gone the other way. That’s not to say the decisions made by the officials were indeed the wrong ones, and can’t wholly attribute to the ultimate 3-0 score-line, they are simply dubious. A manic few seconds invariably turned the derby on its head, when the Toon were in full control. The fact Coloccini has since had his red card rescinded is merely rubbing salt into the wounds.
However, that was then and this is now. The Magpies must win against Bournemouth, and it will be their biggest test to date. They will travel to the South Coast up against a slick footballing side, just a point above them in the league, with the chance to finally lift themselves out of the bottom three.
Steve McClaren’s outfit are decent enough in possession, and boast some lethal forward options in the likes of Ayoze Perez, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Giorgino Wijnaldum. Where Sunderland hit them on the break, the Geordies will be the ones with their backs against the wall during the lunchtime kick-off at the Vitality Stadium.
Eddie Howe’s Cherries side will take the game to the visitors, no doubt playing an attractive brand of football. The Magpies must be the ones to drive counter attacks to their opponents, and proved in the 6-2 rout over Norwich they can perform such a task with devastating effect.
That is not to say it will be that simple, the newly promoted outfit are a competitive side and are likely to give the Toon a run for the money. It’s not hard to imagine the home side will enjoy the lion’s share of possession for swathes of the game, but it’s up to Newcastle to stop them breaking through, while using their own time on the ball effectively and efficiently.
However, a loss to them could do some damage beyond repair to McClaren and his players.
To lose to this Bournemouth side would serve as a reminder as to how far the North East giants have fallen. This is not to do a disservice to Bournemouth, who are a fantastic side to watch, but anything less than a win could really mess with the psyche. To be played off the park by a side just a paltry point better off than them could truly wreck team morale.
If McClaren can pull a second win out of the bag by remaining solid at the back (urrrrm?), and utilising his varied attackers effectively, over an extremely competent side just one point above them in the league, the boost given to the struggling Toon army is hard to quantify.
A loss would cut them four points adrift of their nearest rivals, seeing Howe’s side create some breathing space between them and the drop zone, while leaving Newcastle firmly within its grasp.
Over to you, Steve..