The plan was to do player ratings after this performance. However, through no real fault of their own, Newcastle players were not setup to play today. These three pressing questions should instead take precedence.
1. Is this really the gameplan?
Looking at the lineup an hour before the fixture, I was initially optimistic to see that Joelinton was in the lineup, because it looked like we would get finally get to see him play in his preferred position as second striker in a partnership with a real striker like Callum Wilson (NOT Andy Carroll or Dwight Gayle). The formation looked like it could be a 4-3-1-2 with a midfield trio of Hendrick, Shelvey, and Hayden, Almiron as #10, and Joelinton and Wilson up top. However, I was hesitant; I knew there was a chance that Bruce would play some players out of position and maybe resort to his dinosaur-era 4-4-2. I did not at all anticipate the five at the back setup that he opted for. The entire gameplan was centered around defending. Callum Wilson was isolated for much of the match, attempting to hold off an entirely unoccupied Tottenham backline. The thing is, the five at the back setup wasn’t even working. Newcastle was short-changing itself in attack for supposed defensive solidity, and Tottenham was still peppering Newcastle’s goal. Jose Mourinho’s side could have easily had three or four goals if it weren’t for Darlow and the goal-post.
At halftime, I was again optimistic that Bruce might finally wake up and switch to four man backline. Nothing changed, and when Bruce finally decided to have a go after the 70th minute, he brought on a player that prefers his head to his feet in a sport called football: Andy Carroll. Let’s be brutally honest. Newcastle made no substantial attempt to play the ball with their feet today. The plan was to park the bus against Jose Mourinho, the man who coincidentally revolutionized and popularized the tactic, and hope for the best. When Newcastle finally decided to have a go, their efficacy in attack pivoted on how well a 31-year-old Andy Carroll would be able to knock the ball down on his head and create something. There was never a valid attempt to play the game the way it should be played. It worked out thanks to the thoughtless combination of this handball rule and VAR, but it shouldn’t have.
2. Do the players and fans deserve this?
By the time Callum Wilson stepped up to take the penalty that was ridiculously gifted to us, Newcastle had played more than 180 minutes of Premier League football without mustering a shot on target. With capable attacking players like Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron, and Ryan Fraser having played at least a decent chunk of those minutes, it begs the question if Steve Bruce is capable of mustering a gameplan that comes even remotely close to bringing the best out of his most important attacking players. The answer to that question is of course no, but it prompts the follow-up question: does Steve Bruce even improve any of his outfield football players? Obviously, the goalkeeper is forced to play like a super-hero, and that is why I have specified outfield player. Matty Longstaff could have once been referenced as a counter-example to the question, but he now finds himself wasting his prime developmental years some distance away from the pitch. Federico Fernandez could also get a shout, but to be fair, he has looked this solid throughout his tenure with the club. I can’t speak for other fans, but at times, I have genuinely found myself feeling bad for the players, who bought into their dreams of Premier League and now have to deal with such ineptitude on a daily basis. I wonder how it must feel for players like Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron to be plying their trade for this football club. They deserve much better than this.
Of course, prompting this question after a 1-1 draw against Tottenham might seem an overreaction, but this thinking has truly been brewing for a while. Outside of a 3-0 victory against a 10 man Sheffield side, a 4-1 victory against a relegation-bound Bournemouth side, and a 7-0 victory against a 10 man fourth tier Morecambe side, Newcastle have looked devoid of ideas going forward throughout Steve Bruce’s tenure. Newcastle looked more threatening with a much weaker squad in the years immediately following promotion, and since then, capable attacking players have been brought in. Our beloved team should be progressing. Instead, it isn’t even stagnating; it is regressing to an increasingly difficult to watch football. Newcastle may have picked up a point on the evening, but it was as far from enjoyable as can be. Fans deserve better.
3. When will the luck run out?
Today, it was an accidental handball at the end of the game. In the past, it has been opposition red cards and set pieces that have bailed out Steve Bruce . We rejoiced when Florian Lejuene turned into prime Ruud Van Nistelrooy in stoppage time at Goodison Park. In many of these instances, Steve Bruce was able to breathe a sigh of relief that Newcastle had picked up points. How long can this truly continue on for? Relying on luck never seems the wise thing to do, and given the quality that there is in the Premier League, you have to wonder how a side that consistently has very little possession, very few chances created, and subsequently, very few goals will survive long enough to see Mike Ashley and his faithful beneficiaries depart the club for good.