The North vs. South All-Star you had been all waiting for! Now, if only would have it made for an actual entertaining match, maybe we could start calling it that. But it didn’t, so Todd Boehly will need to wait at least for a while, or just accept that things aren’t going to look so well as his dreams might tell him.
With Eddie Howe managing Newcastle against his former club for the first time since taking over managerial duties with the Tyneside club, it’s not that this game lacked a proper narrative. Sprinkle a little bit of extra drama on top of it after the sacking of Scott Parker just a few weeks ago—and the sudden bounceback Bournemouth had experienced under the guidance of caretaker-manager Gary O’Neil—and this football affair surely had it all.
The most interesting and pressing pre-match news to follow, though, were those related to the fitness and availability of two of the best three players currently signed to play football in Newcastle: Bruno and Allan Saint-Maximin. The former always seemed likely to appear for the Magpies, the latter was creating some more doubts and Eddie Howe didn’t shed any light at all on the situation of the Frenchman last Friday when he addressed the press. Alas, ASM missed yesterday’s game.
Bruno was fit and started at the pivot in the deepest position among all three midfield players deployed by Howe. With ASM left out of the named squad, Ryan Fraser was the only other viable option on the flank—unless Joelinton moved there and Elliot Anderson started in the middle of the park, maybe, which didn’t come to happen and probably for the better.
If you’re reading this report while in a rush, let me summarize it for you quickly: Newcastle dominated the game, didn’t deserve to win, reigned so clearly over Bournemouth that no player from the Cherries averaged a position past the midfield line, and ultimately went to sleep with a point that tasted like four. You get an idea.
This was, simply put, an embarrassing performance by a team whose target is to play European football next season. It was an embarrassing game by a team that internally expects to finish the year in a top-8 position. It was an embarrassing game by a team that, simply put, couldn’t defeat a newly promoted, managerless side in Bournemouth at home this weekend after resting for half a month. And most worryingly of all, this was an embarrassing one-point-earned game that, had it not been for the luckiest of handballs and VAR calls, would have ended in a net zero for the Magpies. That is what it was. EmVARrassing.
With only 15 minutes played Bournemouth already had the most straightforward chance of the game up to that point. Nothing very threatening, but a warning and a still-undecipherable omen nonetheless. That would obviously change because, as expected, Bournemouth would pose no real threat and have no chance of extracting anything positive from St James’ Park.
Trippier was the only bright light donning Black and White stripes for more than half an hour. His passing was delightful, his vision otherworldly, the receiver of those passes definitely underperforming. Of course, Joelinton hit the post in the 43rd minute of the game right before the halftime whistle in a play that could have changed the course of the game. Of course, it didn’t come to happen and Newcastle kept Newcastling.
This is not the classic “whoever-GK always plays his best against NUFC.” Not after seven games, one defeat, one win, and five draws in which the lads have scored eight while conceding seven. One of those eight bangers, mind you, came from a penalty kick—though we’ll get to that in just a bit. Rivals know where this team sits; not at the top of the order, not at the bottom either. So minnows, giants, and your mediocre-and-average side is going to face Newcastle with a simple but rather clever plan: park the bus a bit, look for breakaways, try to snatch something from a quick counter, and go from there. And hey, it’s working wonders for them!
Howe has been a game-changing coach for the Magpies, a true maestro in guiding the team out of the relegation zone last season and one who, more than a month into the season, has his team inside the top half of the Premier League. That’s extraordinary, as are moments of brilliance found in Newcastle’s combination game here and there. To wit, the play coming off the locker at the start of the second half in which the lads strung a bunch of passes that ended in a wide shot by Ryan Fraser. It was fantastic, a pleasure to watch, and something that was pitched to us as the minimum expectation to come from this squad in open play after the takeover. Let me doubt it.
What we have growth expected to watch, instead, is a bunch of men finding it impossible to break low blocks. Finding it impossible to work something out and to find solutions to problems posed by the lesser of rivals. A team, simply put, lacking all sorts of creativeness, inventiveness, intelligence, and smarts to open the lock and untie the knot.
Not to mention the ridiculous defensive blunders such as the one above. Line of four? In place. Playing a proper offside? Not so much, because Billing found the back of the defensive line with impressive each, and hitting the ball with the softest of touches put Bournemouth ahead. An AFCB team that had nothing to do with this game... or at least that’s what folks led us to believe. Turns out, you know, maybe the Magpies are not such a Champions League-level team? Just my two cents.
When Newcastle was awarded a penalty thanks to VAR just a play after allowing Bournemouth into the scoreboard, that was a lifesaver event gifted to the Magpies by the football gods. Because, let’s be honest for a minute, that low cross by Kieran Trippier was going nowhere more than a corner, if at all.
Isak the Great put the ball inside the goal and to the back of the net. Couldn’t help but bring back some Chris Wood's last-season vibes.
As depressing as it sounds, this was all the Geordies were left with to celebrate on Saturday. And it’s becoming a very worrying norm because anyone rooting for Newcastle knows Ws are not coming the lads’ way anymore. It is what it is, so deal with it.
One would have thought the goal might spark a furious rush by the Men in Black. It did. It did, I mean, if you consider Jacob Murphy’s asking for a handball a win, which is probably the closest this team is getting these days to actually finish a game with three points in their bags.
Bournemouth parking the bus and painting your face was something that Howe could, should, and must have planned for. He definitely did not. And it showed.
O’Neil is unbeaten. O’Neil has won five points off a possible nine. O’Neil is the caretaker man of a newly-promoted club. Howe is—should be, better said—more than that.
The injuries have hurt, and the depth is not so great, but that’s no excuse—plan better, folks, because you never know when that knock or that twisted ankle will come!—to throw out there when discussing the glaring lack of everything around this team with the next match taking place in October. That’d be two full months of play since the ball got rolling back at the start of August. Yes, this team was sitting 19th last season after seven games played. They had won just three points through three draws. They were sandwiched by two soon-to-be-relegated squads in Burnley and Norwich.
One year later, this team is 10th with eight points through seven games. Same number of goals scored. Only one more victory than 12 months ago. Is that a huge difference? Not a very noticeable one, if you ask me.
Get ready, though, because you’re about to read tons of reports saying that it took Newcastle 15 games to break the seven-point barrier in the 2021/22 campaign. That’s a great improvement! It’s only taken fewer than half the number of games for this new iteration to achieve that fantastic feat! Fantastic feat? Bullshit.
Sports don’t work this way, but Newcastle is on pace to get 43 points over the full 38-game campaign. That would have been good for a 15th place last season, a 15th place one year before that, a 15th place another year before that... you get the idea.
The advent of the UEFA Conference League—the one nobody wants to play in—has brought a lower bar to clear for good-not-great teams to claim they belong in Europe. No team in the past three years qualified for the Europa League with fewer than 58 years. West Ham got into the Conference League pot with 56. That’s 13 more than 43, just in case.
Now, you tell me how this squad is going to clear that mark.
Long international break ahead with no more games in the month of September for Newcastle and only two today (Sunday) in the Premier League as a whole. Domestic football comes back on Oct. 1st with Arsenal hosting Tottenham in an extraordinary lunchtime game while Newcastle will be facing Fulham in London later that afternoon.
Howay the lads!