Wednesday, 23 September 2015

An Unhappy First Visit...

The pressure was always going to prove too much. Five games without victory in the build-up to a match that Newcastle would always be expected to win in any circumstances, yet there was a certain fear in the air, a sense that any win would be scrappy. The only time they had racked up any kind of goal tally was against the toothless lower-league opposition that Northampton had provided in the Capital One Cup.

The warm-ups of the two sides, in hindsight, were quite an interesting window. Watford did some stretching, while Newcastle rehearsed some snappy, yet also strangely subdued one-touch pass-and-move. It was the last time they would demonstrate it that afternoon. All the talk of late is how good the training has been, but with the form of our respective attack and defence, I fail to see how facing that lot in training all week is any kind of gauge of performance come Saturday itself.

Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney were a thorn in the side of the home team all afternoon, showcasing the power and pace that mercilessly exposed the lack of the same in captain Fabricio Coloccini. Not only did the Argentine defender fail to impress in those qualities, but his distribution was often careless to the point of criminal, with countless floated dinks barely making it halfway to the intended target before being easily intercepted by a much more hungry Watford player.

The selection of Steve McClaren was a talking point throughout the week after the equally meek surrender at West Ham. Personally, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to bench Papiss Cisse and throw Ayoze Perez, Siem de Jong and Rolando Aarons into the attack. If you aren't going to go for the jugular at home to a newly-promoted side, even though Watford may yet finish well clear of relegation, then when? Perez was the only one of that power trio to make the grade.

As I was watching live at the ground, it took a minute or two for the formation to be clear in my mind. The hope in my mind was for some kind of Perez-Cisse partnership. In reality, the Spaniard was in a staggeringly defensive left-midfield role. The opening 45 saw Cisse as the only player in the Watford half for long spells. Florian Thauvin and Daryl Janmaat showed some promising link up play down the right, and the Dutch right-back was our main attacking threat throughout the match.

The most damning aspect of the game was, even at 2-0 down, the Toon had 11 men in the penalty box, with no out-ball. No counter attack possible. By the time any forward momentum was gathered, all gates were shut by the visitors.

In all fairness, there was a slight improvement in the second half, with Cisse being jettisoned for de Jong, but the formation changed little. There was still no desire to push up the field, get numbers in the box, and only Janmaat was showing any guile when it came to actually forcing the issue and creating something dynamic.

Another worry was McClaren's delay in making any further changes. Not until the 80th minute did substitute number two arrive, and even then, hoping a straight swap with Aarons for Haidara would make any big difference was a tad misguided. Aarons can have as big an impact as any youngster in the Premier League if he is let off the leash and allowed to really attack teams from a more advanced position than wing-back.

By this stage, even a one-goal deficit seemed insurmountable, and each broken down attack saw a few more people filter out around me. By the time the final whistle blew, a half empty stadium remained, but the booing was substantial enough.

In fact, throughout the game, the surrounding fans in my area certainly were not shy in showing their frustration. It was perhaps a reflection of the inertia affecting the side that barely one player escaped abuse. In general, the new boys escaped harsh judgement, although Thauvin has work to do if he is to escape the second-rate Ben Arfa tag that seems destined to befall any new French winger that arrives to Tyneside.

All in all, a lot of work to do, hopefully starting tonight at home to Sheffield Wednesday, but now I must do my own. Night shift tonight for me. Hopefully many good shifts are put in at St James', and not just from the away side...