Even allowing 48 hours for the dust to settle and a sense of perspective to develop, it’s not a particularly pleasant task to pick through the bones of City’s latest defeat.
With Newcastle still searching for a first Premier league win of the season and memories of our last trip to the North-east fresh in the mind, the travelling Yellow Army had good reason to be optimistic. However any hopes of another classic away day were quickly dashed as the Geordies proved far less accommodating than their neighbours from Wearside.
Alex Neil handed Dieumerci Mbokani his first start with Nathan Redmond and Martin Olsson also taking a place in his starting line-up. Cameron Jerome, Wes Hoolahan and Matt Jarvis were the ones making way following defeat to Leicester.
Having ditched the Dutch accent, Schhhteve McLaren returned to his English roots, setting out his team in a good old-fashioned 4-4-2.
So with a numerical advantage in midfield, City’s game plan was presumably to seize control of early possession and prey on the nerves of the winless Magpies and potential restlessness in the crowd.
However that all went to pot within fifteen minutes as Newcastle dominated a subdued City side. Maybe our players had watched the one-sided build-up on Sky Sportsand simply hadn’t realised that they were due to play. Either way, the impressive Sissoko was given the chance to pick out an unmarked Wijnaldum to open the scoring by slotting the ball past a day-glo John Ruddy.
City responded strongly and after Robbie Brady had rattled a post from 30 yards, they drew level when Olsson’s cross was turned in by Mbokani for his second strike in two games. Another deft touch showing he has predatory instincts in and around the six-yard box.
The joy lasted all of six minutes as Sissoko and Wijnaldum combined again with the latter being given the freedom of the City box to rise between two defenders and restore Newcastle’s lead. Worse was to come when following some City pressure, a long-ball turned defence into attack and after Perez’s initial shot came back off Olsson he was on hand to rattle in the rebound.
Back came Norwich and Redmond fired in a volley from another good cross by Olsson. Five shots on target. Five goals. All within the opening thirty-four minutes – it was breathless stuff.
Alex Neil commented afterwards that it had the feel of a basketball match with both sides taking turns to attack the other. However it felt more akin to the early Rocky films. The teams trading blows with seemingly no interest or the ability to avoid taking one square in the kisser.
After the break, City had a decent spell of possession and created a degree of pressure which culminated in a Seb Bassong header being cleared off the line. On the hour, Alex Tettey made way for Hoolahan as Alex Neil ‘went for it’.
What he got was two quick fire Newcastle goals on the counter which effectively ended the match as a contest. Sissoko was again the architect claiming his third assist for a Mitrovic strike before Wijnaldum claimed the match ball with yet another header following a surging run into the box.
A Redmond effort that hit the post might have made things interesting but as if to demonstrate that it really wasn’t our day, Wijnaldum added a sixth (his fourth) with an effort that deflected over a very pink and very bemused Ruddy.
Game, set and match.
So what did we learn? You can’t concede six goals without serious questions and concerns being raised over the defence. Those who retain doubts over Russell Martin at centre-half and / or Steven Whittaker at right-back will no doubt find plenty to add to that particular debate.
However questions surely have to be asked of the midfield. It’s a cliché but you defend as a team and the fact that Wijnaldum was repeatedly lost by his midfield markers is unforgiveable. It’s not like he’s a set of car-keys after all.
In his post-match interviews, Alex Neil took a degree of responsibility citing the substitution of Tettey as one that he got wrong. It’s true that City were on top immediately before he made the switch but few would have questioned the move to bring on our play-maker in an attempt to unlock the Newcastle defence.
City have now conceded more than any other team. Twenty goals in just nine games. Much has been made of our inability to defend set-pieces but in the last two matches we’ve repeatedly been exposed to pacey counter-attacks and as we’re all aware there are sterner tests around the corner. With no chance of adding to the squad before January, Alex has limited defensive options with which to reshuffle his pack.
There will undoubtedly be claims for Ryan Bennett to bolster the back-four but it’s the return of Youssouf Mulumbu from injury which perhaps gives us best hope of adding some more protection. The recent form of the normally outstanding Jonny Howson and the reliable Graham Dorrans is a slight concern and in the absence of a big bruising enforcer with a man-bun, Mulumbu should provide some much needed steel to the middle.
All is not lost but this defeat was horribly reminiscent of some of the car crashes from our last season in the top flight. It served as a savage reminder that even those teams propping up the league have enough quality in their ranks to expose any lapses of concentration.
It was certainly a bad day in the office. Whether it’s reflective of a deeper malaise in the team will become apparent over the next few weeks.
West Brom visit Carrow Road at the weekend. A repeat of the recent Capital One cup result would be very welcome to get things back on an even keel.