A defeat on Tyneside is hardly a rarity. The history book tells us that it’s been 25 years since City chalked up a win at St James’ Park, so an odd goal defeat in front of the Toon is sadly par for the course. It’s happened in each of the last three seasons, even when you-know-who was in charge.
Those hardy yellow-clad souls who travel to the northern extremities of England to watch a game of ‘Subbuteo’ from the edge of space do so in hope rather than expectation, but always with a lingering hope of ‘perhaps this will be the year’.
So imagine their sinking feeling when Loic Remy nodded in that second minute opener unchallenged. Given City’s away form, those who tweeted – with a hint of irony *I think* – ‘game over’ were unfortunately bang on the money. At least that’s how it felt.
Live ‘in-game’ betting is not my thing but those that way inclined would, I’m sure, have been offered more than generous odds for a City win just two minutes into the game. Two minutes.
The less said about the nature of said goal the better, suffice to say neither Messrs Ruddy or Johnson covered themselves in glory; Russell Martin may also look back on the concession of the corner and think he could have done a little better.
Soft goals are the least City can afford right now but they don’t come any softer than Remy’s; the Frenchman in the type of form where gift horses of that ilk are gobbled up without a second thought.
Those with the yellow tinted specs will argue that City enjoyed a decent chunk of possession throughout but only in the last ten minutes did the ball get zipped around with any real purpose. For the most part the build up was slow, laboured and just a little too deliberate.
Newcastle, by contrast, passed the ball at pace – particularly in the first half – and as a result looked a constant threat in the final third.
The second goal, when it arrived, also had ‘soft’ written all over it and will again have done little to enhance Ruddy’s England credentials, although the Big Man was done few favours by those in front him.
It’s of course easy to pick holes from the comfort of a desk, but if I were to be picky I’d say the initial cross was delivered until little pressure, Martin was all too easily beaten in the air and Gouffran reacted infinitely quicker to Ruddy’s handling error than anyone in yellow.
Again, just a little too easy.
The second period was better in terms of performance of course, and there was a definite reaction to whatever was said at half-time, but the mountain left to climb was always going to be too steep.
Unsurprisingly in the circumstances the Toon did take their foot off the pedal and, assisted by some World Cup qualifier induced jet-lag, City did fare better as the game went on.
Leroy Fer’s thumping header was the trigger for a late flurry but by then there was already an underlying feeling that a trick had been missed.
When the luckless Anthony Pilkington was stretchered off just four minutes into the second-half we were greeted with the sight of Johan Elmander chatting jovially to the fourth official in readiness to enter the fray.
Nothing wrong with that per se and for a brief fleeting moment I expected the Swede to join Gary Hooper in attack and for City to revert to an attacking 4-4-2 in an attempt to get something out of the game.
But no. And I can’t have been alone in experiencing that sinking feeling (again) when instead of joining Hooper up front he positioned himself just in front of Martin on the City right in a like-for-like swap; Redmond just switching flanks.
Sadly it speaks volumes for the management’s current mindset that with the attacking talents of Wes Hoolahan and Josh Murphy on the bench an old-fashioned centre-forward with little turn of pace was preferred.
Given the choice of looking horns with Elmander, Murphy or Hoolahan, who would Newcastle left-back Santon have chosen?
At 2-0 down, and seemingly dead and buried, it appeared a perfect opportunity to unleash Murphy’s pace on a fatigued Magpies back line. But instead of sending out a message of ‘giving it a go’, it said ‘damage limitation’. That it took until the 89th minute for the two aforementioned attackers to get on the pitch also speaks volumes.
Tentativeness alas was not restricted to the the technical area and some of Hughton’s men again did him few favours; the ability to pass the ball under pressure at the highest level still appearing a step too far for a few. I remain unconvinced that some of the current crop will ever consistently deliver to a level that’s needed.
The root and branch overhaul that occurred to the squad in the summer now looks in need of a further tweak or two and with each passing defeat the January window looks ever more critical.
So… another one that got away. Another point that has slipped through the fingers. The win at Stoke looking horribly akin to last season’s Swansea ‘one-off’.
I’m not expecting the board to react – as some have suggested – off the back of a single goal defeat in the north-east, but the overt caution on display in yesterday’s second forty-five won’t have gone unnoticed.
A win next week against Crystal Palace would at least indicate the home form to be back on track but you have to feel for the travelling Yellow Army. Their faith is being tested to the limit right now.