At Newcastle United, even the victories can seem like defeats.
Yesterday afternoon the side was coasting to what would finish as a breezy 3-0 win over League One side Crewe Alexandria in the opening match of the 2020/21 pre-season. However, despite an effortlessly acrobatic goal from Andy Carroll that was complimented by tidy finishes from Christian Atsu and Fede Fernández, the attention post-match was on Dwight Gayle gingerly hobbling off the pitch in the 63rd minute.
In the hours since the match, hopes of a mere minor knock are quickly ballooning into fears of a potentially significant injury to the English striker.
At 9:31am local time today, Luke Edwards tweeted out this ominous update:
“Dwight Gayle will have scan this afternoon but doesn’t look good according to medical staff. Hyper-extended his knee but extent of damage and time out not yet known. As for signings, no sense of frustration yet so can’t have missed on main targets as things stand #NUFC”
As it stands, Newcastle will go into the coming season carrying just three healthy strikers: Andy Carroll, Joelinton, and Yoshinori Muto. This is incredibly alarming, as those three combined for just three goals total last Premier League season. The cries for attacking support are continuing to reverberate throughout Tyneside, with ever more increased volume.
What is even more disturbing is that we have seen this all before:
- An injured Newcastle player
- Absence of depth in personnel, or existence of financial funds, is revealed
- The complete lack of a Plan B becomes evident for all to see
- Instability ensues
The most amateur of authors could not conceive of a story so predictable.
For an example of this cycle just turn back the clock seven months. After Jetro Willems and Paul Dummett were both ruled out with season-ending injuries, Steve Bruce was left without any natural left-backs. A last-minute loan for Danny Rose was brokered on January 30th, and after a somewhat mediocre six-month audition, Newcastle is back to square zero, with one LB in Dummett who has not played a full match since December 21st.
The same problem arose a year before in January 2019: when Dummett reaggravated a persistent hamstring injury, there was suddenly nobody to fill the left side of the defense. Another stop-gap solution was brought in on loan, this time Monaco’s Antonio Barreca, whose time at Newcastle was so underwhelming he at one point posted a photo on Instagram asking if the club had forgot he existed. His brief spell at Newcastle ended with the Italian defender being deployed for a total of four minutes.
To conclude this brief history of apparitional planning and a perpetual “feeding-on-scraps” behavior by Newcastle we come to January 2018. Internal financial constraints rivaling that of a circa-2008 American housing lender forced Rafa Benitez to get his desired striker boost in the form of Leicester’s Islam Slimani, once again on a deadline-day loan. Perhaps the most disastrous of all three examples, Slimani was brought in to replace Aleksandar Mitrovic, who had made just one start in the first half of the 2017/18 season due to suspensions and a spinal injury. This nightmare loan entailed only 130 minutes of play from the Algerian, who came to the club already riddled with a thigh muscle strain. Four appearances, zero goals, ten matches absent from the matchday squad.
We now arrive back in the modern day, peering down at a club two-and-a-half weeks from starting the Premier League season with one frail left-back and three strikers collectively devoid of an even-modest recent scoring record. History is repeating itself in Newcastle once again, with many people left concerned that we have not even slightly learned our lesson.
Now you’re looking for the secret... but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking.
Are you watching closely?